Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Growing In Faith - Why it Matters

In church, we talk about faith.  We encourage one another to grow in our faith, and yet we very rarely talk about how to do that.  How does one mature in their faith?  How do we grow?  We make assumptions that we all just ‘know how,’ but we usually stop growing in our faith more often than not.

What we don’t know is that faith, like life, has stages.  Faith is dynamic and vibrant, but we fail to nurture it, and so it stagnates.  That’s certainly not what any church community should want. 

Before we can look at the stages of faith, though, we need to understand what faith is and how it grows.  To begin with we need to understand that faith and belief are not the same thing.  We often use those words interchangeably, but they have different meanings and different emphases. 

Belief is holding to a particular idea, ideology, political doctrine, theological point of view and so on.
Faith, in the context of religion, is the “quiet confidence and joy which enable one to feel at home in the universe and find meaning […] a meaning that is profound and ultimate, and is stable no matter what may happen.”[1]  Belief may be an expression of faith, but beliefs are not faith.

For example, let’s look at Daniel 3:17-18, which takes place in the larger context of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego:  “(17) If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  (2)But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Verse 17 is a statement of belief.  Verse 18, though, is a statement of faith.  Even if God doesn’t save them, they will still not bow down to the gods of the king.  Even if they die, their faith remains in God.  Biblical faith is not placed in the outcome of an event, but rests in God.

This is an important distinction to learn.  So when we read what Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 3:1-9 about milk and solid food and spiritual matters, we begin to understand that he doesn’t mean to increase your beliefs, your creeds, your laws, or your rules.  He wants you to grow in your faith!  The rules may change.  The laws come and go.  Will your faith falter?

It will if your faith is in your beliefs instead of in the source of those beliefs.  This is why our faith fails to grow as we mature. 

Often, though, our faith isn’t in God, it is in what we believe we should believe about God.  There is a huge difference in saying that you have faith in Christ and stating what you believe about Christ.  That’s why we get so caught up in calling people “unfaithful” because they don’t ‘believe’ x,y, and z.  What we have done is confuse the terms of faith and belief.

Faith, like life, has stages.  I am not the same person I was 20 years ago.  I don’t look the same, I don’t think the same.  20 years ago I was not the same person I was when I was 8.

Paul, in the 1st letter to the Corinthian church wrote:  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

I think it would be disappointing, even regrettable, if after all these years I had not grown or gained deeper understandings or perspectives on life.  And yet with our faith, that is exactly what happens.  In our faith we are still where we were 20 years ago or, perhaps worse, where we were when we were 8.

Our faith shouldn’t be so fragile that we fear stretching it.  Church is to uphold and encourage faith.  Sunday School is there to do the practical and particular work of helping you grow in your faith.  Neither Sunday School nor church is there to keep you where you were or, heaven forbid, move you backwards.

So why is this important?

Our faith establishes our character, and our character is seen in the relationships we make and maintain and the ways we respond to crisis.  Our faith has direct bearing on how we seek to live our life with integrity.  Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we may or may not see the crisis coming, but how we react is a testimony to our faith, not to our beliefs. 

That’s why it matters so much that we grow in our faith.

In the letter of James we read in 4:8a: “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.”  Think of faith as a pursuit.  The close we seek to be with God, the closer God comes to us.  We do not know the outcome, we may not even get our way.  But those are issues of belief. 

We are to grow in our faith.

[1]  Wilfred Cantwell Smith as cited in James Fowler’s book Stages of Faith p.11

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