Faith Factor 2 – Man

“All things are possible to him who believes” – Jesus Christ, Mark 9:23

And that’s what makes faith such a vital and powerful component of Christianity. Faith is the most powerful force available to ordinary people in every generation.

By faith lives are transformed. By faith miracles are performed. By faith impossible obstacles are removed. By faith whole nations are impacted. By faith “all things are possible”!

So what is faith? How does it work? How do we get more of it? How can we build our faith, use it more freely and see more of its fruit in our lives?

I began answering these questions in part one of this series, explaining that faith is anchored in the person of God. Now it’s time to look at man’s part in this thing called faith.

Fusion of God and Man

I discussed the ‘faith fusion’ in part one, explaining that faith brings together multiple elements of Christianity into one powerful, explosive package. This fusion brings together two polarities of Christian thought; God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

Anyone who has delved into theological studies has been confronted by the passionate debate and polarising nature of Calvinism versus Arminian thought. In simplistic terms, Calvinism places great emphasis on the sovereignty of God, while Arminianism recognises man’s responsibility.

Without getting caught in the vortex of the debate, allow me to point out that the very defining verse on faith creates a fusion of those two, supposedly competitive concepts. While Hebrews 11:6 clearly gives weight to the person and character of God, as seen in part one, it also gives clear place to the part that man plays as well.

“But without faith it is impossible to please him (God): for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

Man Believes

While God is all that He is and all that the Bible reveals Him to be, God’s almighty glory does not take effect in a person’s life until and unless that person believes. God is the ultimate and complete source of everything. But man must access God’s reality and grace, by man’s response to God. If man does not respond, then all the benefits of God’s reality, salvation, power and grace are lost to that person.

Unbelievers cannot engage faith. Faith is not a one-sided dynamic. Faith is anchored in who God is, but it is also activated by man’s response to the truth about God.

In fact, man is in a unique place to activate faith. We are told that the demons believe, but it does them no good. They believe “and tremble”.

“You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” James 2:19

Man, however, gets a powerful result from believing.

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” John 1:12

Man Seeks

The key verse I am using to define faith (Hebrews 11:6) not only reveals that man believes, but it points to man also seeking God. Faith has confidence in God’s character to reward those who “diligently seek him“.

A person of faith becomes confident in who God is and that God’s character is to bless. That person becomes confident that seeking God brings positive outcomes and so they press in to Him, seeking Him and expecting Him to respond to their actions.

A person of faith has a high level of engagement in their relationship with God. They are not passively dependent on God, but actively pressing in to access the benefits which can only come from God. They are ‘actively’ dependent on God. God and man work in synergistic fusion to bring faith into play and to release the grace which God is keen to give.

So man has a double part to play. Man is not a pawn, nor a sidelined passenger in Christianity. Man must “live by faith”.

“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Hebrews 10:38

God and Man

Christianity is a ‘relationship’. God is our Father. We are His children. God and man work together and are bonded together in salvation and in the new relationship which springs from it.

Faith is the sweetest energising of the bond between God and man. It is the lynchpin of the relationship. It initiates the union and energises the on-going relationship. Faith is a team effort, engaging God and man in mutually satisfying cooperation for the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom.

So man cannot engage in faith outside of intimate relationship with God. Faith is an expression of that relationship, not something that man can activate independently of God.

Yet faith is offered to man to operate. It is like a father providing a car for his son. The car belongs to the father, but the keys are passed to the son. In the fullness of intimacy between God and man, man is able to operate with all of God’s resources.

Boldness in Faith

Faith, then, is something which people should enter into confidently. We are to come to God with boldness, because faith is something God is keen for us to engage in.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Fear of faith is out of place in Christianity. Christianity is a ‘faith’ which creates relationship, and it is relationship based on faith. Fear causes people to draw back, and drawing back is the opposite of faith.

Be encouraged that God wants you to step out in faith and to connect with Him in faith. He wants you to become completely confident in who He is and in His will to bless you, so that you will actively seek Him.

Be bold. Step into the presence of your holy God. Press in to know Him and to be knitted together with Him. As you do so you will be stepping into the arena of faith.

In ‘Faith Factor 3′ I will point out the imperative of faith.

On the Winning Side

Over the past few days I received a range of disturbing reports from various sources. Cumulatively they speak of doom and gloom. But I found myself rejecting that prognosis. So I’m blowing a trumpet for faith, confidence and eagerness to win battles.

I hope my optimism doesn’t put you off, but I fear that many Christians are buried in the barrage (there I go with alliteration again – sorry). There is no shortage of challenges – just a shortage of champions. So, rather than depress you with the enemy’s smoke screen, let’s remind ourselves of the Lord’s sovereignty in all situations.

Let’s survey the landscape for a moment.

There are evil people who wish to perpetrate evil. Surprised? It’s the way things have been for a long time.

There are religions, institutions, and cohorts in league together intent on pulling down godly morality, Christian faith and the fear of God. Surprised? I think you’ll find that this is how things have been for a very long time.

Evil people, probably motivated by evil spirits and working for the devil, are employing clever strategies which are, at least temporarily, undermining godliness and the fear of God. The Kingdom of God is under active attack right now! Surprised? I think you’ll find that it’s been like this before.

Some Christian strongholds have been overthrown and their position usurped by contrary values. Churches have closed, Judeo-Christian values have been overturned, evil people have ascended to positions of influence, evil systems have infiltrated and subverted things that were once examples of godly virtue. Surprised? It’s all been done before.

Did you ever notice that the seven churches which Jesus personally communicated with in the book of Revelation no longer exist? Not one of them has survived. So, is that the end of Christianity? No!

Have you noticed how church buildings have now become café’s and private homes? Is that the end of the church? No! Have you noticed that established denominations have gone stale with formality or come to hold values contrary to their founding fathers?

To cut to the chase, as it were, let me ask you a couple of questions. Who is in control of this world, God or evil people? I am convinced that God is in control. Who has the greatest power on this planet, evil people or those empowered by God? Clearly those of us who access God’s power are on the winning side. When things look bleak does that mean that God’s plans are being thwarted? The answer to this question has to be a resounding “No”. Christ’s crucifixion was an apparent moment of defeat, when in reality it was the pivotal point of all human history. It undergirds the greatest legacy of victory that has ever been imagined.

So, the Philistines are camped on the next hill and they have a loud-mouth champion who threatens to tear us to pieces. That’s pretty impressive and pretty intimidating to anyone who can only see with natural eyes. When your peers are panicking and everyone’s confidence has dissolved you can find yourself giving credence to the apparent circumstances.

But when you see things from God’s perspective, knowing that He is the ultimate champion over all evil and will stand by His servants who will step out in His name, you can have the boldness of David.

We are on the Winning Side! The battle is so one-sided in our favour that our enemies have no chance whatsoever. They may have an apparent upper hand and they may convince all onlookers that they have won the day, but God is Lord of all and His Kingdom will prevail.

Be encouraged. Stir up your faith to stand like a Daniel, David or Gideon, against odds that make your stand look ridiculous. And when you see the next terrifying report about how our adversaries are taking ground, commit yourself to prayer and acts of faith. This is not time to faint in light of the bad news, but it’s time to connect to the Real News – that God is in control and is waiting for a champion to take up the challenge of this generation and its evil spectres.

It just may be that God has placed you where you are, for just such a time as this.

Scorner in the Corner

I was contacted many years ago by a young male university student who had recently joined a skeptic group on campus. He phoned me to practice his powers of intellectual argument or something. The exchange didn’t go as he had planned.

The first thing I sensed as the stranger did a hasty introduction and then hit me with some challenging question about Christian faith, was that he was a rather insincere young man. He seemed to be trying something out that really didn’t fit him very well. I gave an off-the-cuff cursory answer to his question and he pressed his point. I can’t remember the issue that he raised.

He rather proudly announced that he was a skeptic. I think he found some solace in the idea that he was backed up by something like a body of supporters. I replied by sharing with him my thoughts about people who are sceptical.

I pointed out how it surprised me that people who chose to identify themselves as sceptics were principally only sceptical about faith in God. These supposedly enlightened minds, superior enough to see through other people’s folly, seemed remarkably gullible and ever ready to be uncritical in their embrace of things anti-Christian. They did not prove to be sceptical of their university professors, nor of the populist ideas of their group. They did not seem to be sceptical of their own scepticism.

I went on to explain that it seemed that the mainly male groups which identify themselves as skeptics are likely composed of people whose own moral compromises motivate them to become devoted to an anti-God posture, in fear of the alternative. Instead of getting on with life and engaging in the broad sweep of life experience, some of these self-proclaimed sceptics are caught in an eddy, which swirls them around in an endless pursuit of the perfect proof that God does not exist. In reality that are being tossed around by their own conscience, and that’s about as close to ‘science’ as many of them get.

I respect those who engage in open-minded analysis of facts and data and who can accept and accommodate competing beliefs and perspectives. Many who identify themselves as skeptics may be just like that. However, the genuinely thoughtful person in such groups is likely to have their integrity compromised by the passionate crusaders who see skeptic groups as a place to celebrate their religious devotion to an anti-God belief system. Those impassioned people are not sceptical at all.

Three thousand years ago King Solomon, in his wisdom, gave a name for people who choke on truth. He called them ‘scorners’. I fear that the young man who phoned me those years ago was trying his hardest to be a scorner. I pray he failed.

It is a sad thing to go through life motivated by fear of judgement for shameful actions. It is also a sad thing to go through life under the cloud of immorality and moral compromise. What a shame for many young men that their lusts bring them into a place of inner defeat that they cannot resolve. Rather than finding true release and personal freedom (Jesus Christ promised such freedom and history attests to its delivery ten thousand times over) these people compound their slavery by playing mind games and slipping into an intellectual backwater. They celebrate their advanced state – the sceptical mind – while they are actually taken captive by vain imaginations and empty beliefs.

If you know someone how is caught up in such a life of scorn, please pray for them. I sense that it is time for many of them to come to the real freedom they are crying out for on the inside. I sense that God is ready to rescue their minds and release them to use their intellectual capacities for good, in ways that will so thrill them and give them what their current delusions don’t deliver.

“Lord, only You can rescue the scorners. Solomon warned us against rebuking them, since they will only try to tarnish the reputation of all who do. So Lord, we pray for them. We pray that You reach out Your hand and apprehend these fine young men who have become enslaved in shame and delusion. Rescue them for Your kingdom and use them for Your glory. Cause the hearts of their ancestors to rejoice in having brought them into the world. Release them into divine destiny. We ask this in Jesus’ powerful and eternal name. Amen.”

Sovereignty Banned!

As I have reviewed the subject of personal sovereignty with you in recent months I have sought to open your eyes to the special privilege you have of doing business, directly and personally, with the God of all creation. Our greatest authority comes from the highest official – and so coming under the direct authority of God gives us authority that cannot be trumped by lesser beings.
True sovereignty, however, is not found in asserting personal rights, attending assertiveness training courses, defying authorities or the like. True sovereignty is all about you being in direct, personal relationship with God. He is the ultimate sovereign citizen of the universe. No-one can contend with His authority. When you are an intimate friend of God, falling at His feet and living only to do His will, you can walk in the fullest expression of your personal sovereignty.
Much of what others might think of as exercising their personal sovereignty may well be rebellion, arrogance, defiance against authority, self-will and ignorance. Please avoid such things.
Now, as I have pointed out, a person who truly walks in their personal sovereignty is able to exercise power and influence greater than governments, regimes and armies. That is the reason, I suggest, that evil regimes are so determinedly antagonistic to Christian faith and the Bible.
There is no more empowering experience and no more sure way to establish a person’s personal sovereignty, than to have them enter into personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no more empowering resource than the Bible. When people live by faith in God, through Jesus Christ, committed to the Bible as the inerrant word of God, they are empowered and willing to exercise personal freedom like no other people. Evil regimes, therefore, run the risk that divinely empowered people will be able to challenge them in the same way Elisha challenged the King of Syria, or David brought down Goliath. No evil regime wants to have young people in its own domain who can exercise greater clout than the dictator, nor some lonely prophet who can topple their power.
Have you noticed that communist and other dictators are quick to ban the Bible, restrict Christian worship and punish people of faith? It is a trade-mark of many regimes. They ban the Bible and Christianity, because they are trying to do away with personal sovereignty.
Notice this quote from Horace Greeley: “It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.” The ‘human freedom’ identified by Greeley is that right to stand before God. A person who can stand confidently before his maker is the freest person on the planet. He may be in prison, outlawed, or otherwise oppressed by man, but his soul and spirit are free, even freer than the dictators who incarcerated him.
Napoleon also recognised the incredible power inherent in the Bible and the faith that springs from it. He said: “The Bible is no mere book, but a Living Creature, with a power that conquers all that oppose it.”
For that reason Bibles have been taken to oppressed people, as part of the process of setting those people truly free. The Bible has the power to liberate souls, and consequently to liberate peoples and nations.
Note, however, that in the West there has been a subtle banning of the Bible. It is no longer allowed to be read in schools as it was when I was a boy. A weekly Bible lesson was conducted in my classes, by the school teacher, as part of the class curriculum. That small inculcation of the Word of God had its effect, especially when combined with the many other places where the Bible was spoken and its teachings propagated. But today much of that sowing of the Bible has been made illegal, and we have a generation more ready to succumb to tyranny than we had before. We have a people closer to losing their human freedom.
I, for one, am keen to propagate the Bible and its teachings. I also encourage every one to explore their personal sovereignty before God. I want whole generations committed to walking with God, according to the Word of God, living by faith in God, obedient to the will of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, so that they can build the kingdom of God and turn back the forces of oppression which aim to enslave them and their children.
I commend to you your personal sovereignty. Don’t let anyone ban it or rob you of it. Pursue God. Read the Bible. Put your faith in Jesus Christ. Humble yourself before God. And live the destiny God has uniquely created for you. I challenge you to do so, in Jesus’ precious and powerful name. Amen.

Catholic Church’s New Sins

The Vatican has now defined an extended list of sins – updating a tradition that is 1500 years old. And, may I say, it signals a crumbling of the Catholic Church.

That’s a dramatic suggestion and it’s not intended to be anything but an observation. Consider what is happening here and make your own assessment.

A recent Milan Catholic University survey of Italian Catholics, arguably as devout a constituency as could be found on the planet, showed a serious change in attitude toward perennial Catholic practice. Attendance at confession is no longer practiced by 60% of Italian Catholics.

The Catholic University showed that 30 percent of Italian Catholics believed that there was no need for a priest to be God’s intermediary and 20 percent felt uncomfortable talking about their sins to another person.

These findings prompted Pope Benedict XVI to express concern over rising secularization. He told a seminar group that hedonism and consumerism had even invaded “the bosom of the Church itself, deeply undermining the Christian faith from within, and undermining the lifestyle and daily behaviour of believers”.

In apparent response to this trend Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti of the Vatican Apostolic Penitentiary told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that priests must take account of “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation”.

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos,” he said.

Now the Vatican says it is time to modernize the list of sins to fit a global world.

Commendable as it may be to draw attention to all forms of wrong, including those that have previously been sidelined, the TREND of what is happening is more significant than the detail.

Here we have one of the most powerful forces in Christendom acting as a handmaiden to social pressures beyond its control. In previous generations this would never be so. In centuries past the Catholic Church set the trend. Indeed Christianity has imposed itself on cultures, nations, families and individuals with profound impact again and again since it was born 2,000 years ago. Christianity has never had to be a handmaiden to society, but rather called society to accept its truths, receive its grace, comprehend its worldview and cooperate with its agenda.

So, I find this latest invention alarming. It signals that the Catholic Church has somehow embraced a position of powerlessness. It almost ascribes the greatest social prominence to the “forces of globalism”, probably including such corporations as McDonalds and Microsoft.

At the same time however, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is still as powerful as ever. The truth of Christianity owes nothing to global forces, but stands in their face and in their way, not needing to step aside to accommodate human culture. The Spirit of God does not need a new sales-pitch or a new message. The old rugged cross, that amazing grace and the church triumphant proceed full-force in this new millennium without apology and without need to re-invent themselves. Praise God for a Saviour who does not change, for grace that is always sufficient and for a hope that is eternal.

The Catholic Church may be signaling by this significant step that it has lost confidence in the gospel which spawned it. It will be interesting to observe, over the next decade or so, if similar expressions of accommodation emerge from the papal corridors.

Believers the world over, be they in traditional churches or underground gatherings, in cathedrals or jungle huts, need not be tempted to uncertainly or doubts about the relevance of their long-held faith. The rock cut out of the mountain is still growing into a mountain that fills the earth – and that is the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sources: Reuters – Vatican lists “new sins,” including pollution / Times Online – Seven new deadly sins: are you guilty? / CNN – Vatican Updates Sins. March 10, 2008