Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Significant Faith - Part 2

We talked yesterday about how significant faith - a faith that can not only withstand adversity, but actually grow through it - is grounded in knowledge. But simply knowing some facts is not enough to produce significant faith. We must DO something with those facts. The first thing we need to do is decide if we assent to or agree with them. This can be a big decision, and it is at this point where so many turn away.

The Apostle John, near the end of his Gospel, wrote:

"These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (or the Messiah), the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).

John claims to have written historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth in the first Century AD. His purpose in doing so is to produce faith - not blind faith or even passionate wishful thinking, but a fact-based faith of significance. He calls his readers not only to understand what he has written, but to assent to its truth. It is not my intent here to defend the historical accuracy of John's Gospel - others have done so far better than I can. If you're interested, you can read Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, and The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel, and the fantastic new book by Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

"Assent" implies a decision on our part. Ultimately, assent is an act of the will - as is the opposite, rejection. While believers are sometimes accused of turning off their minds and leaving them at the doors of their houses of worship (and some do!), unbelivers are usually open to the same criticism when they refuse to enter a house of worship in the first place.

Sometimes this willful rejection is simply a matter of failing to examine the evidence for faith critically. Faith in God is not a 'front-burner' issue for most people. The reasons for this attitude are varied, but are always based in an innate desire for people to be in charge of their own lives. If you think you are in control and value that control, it is easy to pass over evidence that there is a God who might want you to change some of your ways. Why pursue something that might lead to uncomfortable conclusions? It doesn't matter that God tells us in the Bible that He intends His sovereignty over our lives for our good (Deuteronomy 10:13); that is a fact left unconsidered.

Another type of willful rejection can be demonstrated by something I wrote in yesterday's entry. Some physicists (by no means all) who understand the mathematics necessitating "The Singularity" reject it - not on the basis of science, but due to philosophical or (anti-) religious considerations. In this case, rejection includes a thorough examination of the facts. But a strong bias against those facts leads to a lack of assent to their truth. Note, though, that this bias is not based on facts - it is based on one's unwillingness to follow where those facts lead.

The reasons for such considered rejection are ultimately the same as less-considered rejection: a willful decision of denial.

In one of the most profound passages in all of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes:

"[Unbelievers] suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20).

If what Paul wrote is true, God has provided ample evidence of His existence - He has made it possible to obtain enough knowledge to warrant significant faith. But Paul says that unbelievers "suppress" this truth. The word "suppress" means to actively push something down. It requires a certain effort - even if faith in God is a "back-burner" issue.

Significant faith requires not only knowledge, but an active assent or agreement that that knowledge is true. The Bible says that God will reward those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6) and that He is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). I know in my own experience, coming to significant faith was a process that took place over several months. But the direct cause was reading the Bible with the knowledge that it could just possibly be true. I had done enough investigation to satisfy myself on that point. But, in the end, it was God's active pursuit of me as I was pursuing Him that opened my heart to assent to the truth the Bible contained.

So, I cannot take any credit for my faith. God provided the evidence through His creation of His existence. God provided the historical evidence necessary to conclude that the Bible was reasonably accurate. And it was God's Spirit that whispered and prodded and eventually overwhelmed my natural rejection throughout the process.

If you'd like to explore whether significant faith in the Creator God of the universe is possible, I invite you to begin your investigation today. Make it a 'front-burner' issue. God will reward your efforts, as He did mine.

But this will just be a start. Significant faith entails not only knowledge and assent, it also includes trust and committment. We'll explore those aspects of faith in future blog entries.

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