Indeed, we live in a very spiritual world! We sing songs, write poems and make movies about faith. George Michael urges “you gotta have faith”, Bon Jovi calls us to “keep the faith”, Shrek’s donkey confesses “I’m a believer!” and no doubt many of his swamp-friends are Beliebers too! We live in a faith-filled world!
But as often happens with the overuse of a word, the meaning goes missing. Faith becomes some mysterious wishing power that gives is a warm feeling of hope on the inside and keeps us bearing forward.
But that is not Biblical faith. And if you read the Bible thinking faith is this, you will miss the bliss of its promise.
What does it mean to have faith?
On June 30 1859 Charles Blondin “the Great” became the first person to cross over the 340m wide Niagara Falls Gorge tightrope, expended 50 meter above the river where about 1million cubic meters of raging waters rushed by every second. To gt a feel for the risk he took, watch this stunt as Nik Wallanda crossed over these falls in June 2012.
Blondin repeated this stunt several times with variation: he crossed over the rope (8cm in diameter) on stilts; he did it blindfolded; he did it in a sack; he pushed a wheelbarrow over; he carried a chair, stopping half-way to stand with one leg of the chair balancing on the rope. Once he even sat down in the middle and cooked an omelette, enjoyed his breakfast, and only then walked on!
One of his most memorable moments was when, after another crossing on September 15 1860, he asked the crowd whether they believed he could cross the falls again. “Yes!” was the confident cheer. “Do you believe I could cross the falls carrying a man on my back?” After witnessing his previous stunts, they cheered expectantly “Yes!” Blondin leaned in, asking “Who will volunteer?” Silence. After a moment Blondin pointed to an onlooker “Will you trust me?” “No! I can’t risk my life like that!” No one would volunteered, so Blondin turned to his manager Harry Colcord. “Harry, do you believe I can carry you across?” “Yes”, said Harry, “I know you can.” “Then climb on!” And Harry became the only man who was ever carried across the raging Niagara falls by his friend since he was the only man with real faith in Blondin.
This is a good example of what real faith is – to entrust your life without reserve in something or someone.
So in who or what do you put your faith?
To simply say “I have faith” is meaningless. Faith in what, or faith in who? A google search on faith reveals various religions, some more plausible than others, and others totally bizarre. But the most common themes are “belief in science”, “belief in yourself” and “I belief in God.”
If you say you have faith in God and put your future confidently in His providence and justice, you are in a great company: 5.8 billion people still believe in (a) god (84% of the world population), a third of these are Christian. Do we all believe in the same god, worshiping him with different names? Or what distinguishes Christians from these believers in God?
The God Christians believe in is the triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. One God in three persons. He is the living God, and his nature is holy and loving. The doctrine of the Trinity is sometimes regarded as obscure, at times disregarded as unimportant or unnecessarily stumbling block to faith. But this truth is what originally distinguished Christianity from Judaism, something that was only revealed in the incarnation, when Jesus was born and started declaring that he is the Son of God. To be more accurate, the doctrine of the Trinity is grounded in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the foundation of the Christian faith.
We know God to be triune because of his redemptive mission of the world in the giving of his Son and Spirit – and in that we know is true nature. It is because of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and the resurrection that we have come to know the 3-person nature of God. Migliori (Faith seeking Understanding, 2014) writes that the trinitarian nature reveals God as “self-expending, other-regarding, community-forming love.” It is primarily in the giving of himself in Jesus and the Spirit that we know God’s nature is self-expending love. In the life example of Christ and the deferring relationship of the Godhead we know God as other-regarding. It is in the giving of the Son and Spirit that we come to know God’s heart for community, and that his love is always community-forming. The Christian God is Trinitarian and his nature is loving.
And that is the foundation of our Christian Faith – a living, everyday reliance upon the triune God, and not merely a belief in a distant creator-God who might grant an eternal life of bliss when all this is over. Faith is for today.
Why am I so confident to trust this triune God?
Christian ethics and morality is not so much different from many other religions; the description of a “good or godly person” in the New Testament is not altogether different from other codes of ethics. And the Greco-Roman world in which the church was birthed was a whirlpool of such religious ideas and ideals! Why then was the gospel of the early church so compelling and urgent, and why did the Christian faith grow with so much vigour then, and ever since?
Because the Christian gospel is not good advice on morality, but good news of a life that is possible! For the first time ever the ideals of ethics and morality was not only preached as necessity for a blessed human life – but news that the the proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and outpouring of his Spirit showed that the teachings of God’s Kingdom Life was indeed possible for individuals and communities at large! Yes, the resurrection shows that death was not the end of life anymore, but more! The eternal life of God was now available to recreate what was dead and decaying in this life.
The problems that plagued humanity since the fall, known pride, envy, wrath, fear, deceit and divisiveness, sensuality and covetousness, could for the first time not only be identified and managed, but overcome! Paul gloried in this truth in his letter to the Romans 8:11: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (read Romans 8:9-11 for context). A life of peace and goodness was now are reality, visible in the communities of the early church.
The verse in its context shows that having faith in the triune God is lifegiving:
- We can confidently believe in and trust GOD THE FATHER because he is good and loving, generously giving the Son and the Spirit to accomplish the redemption and reconciliation of fallen man. He is indeed the Creator and gracious Sustainer who cares for all his creatures (see Matthew 5:45 and 6:26).
- We can confidently believe in and trust JESUS, THE SON OF GOD who is the Saviour and Lord of all. He left his heavenly throne to become man, to show God’s love, vicariously pay the price for sin and death, resurrecting as sign that sin and death no longer have hold on all those who trust in Him. By dealing with rebellion and sin he rightly became legitimate Lord of all the earth. Now we can confidently trust in him as Mediator between man and God, because he knows human temptations and struggles, freely distributing grace for everyday life (Hebrews 2:18 and 4:14-16).
- We can confidently believe and trust in GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT, the Wisdom, Power and Communion of God. Through the indwelling Spirit we enjoy the living fellowship with Father and Son (John 14:20-23 and 17:20-23), sharing in his eternal life today. Through the indwelling Spirit we are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17) through the life-transforming power of God who gives life that actually transforms our sinful natures, giving us the grace to share in the life of God (Romans 8:11), guiding us in his will.
I find it very easy to believe in, to confidently trust in this God!
Faith for today
Yes, for life in this earth “you gotta have faith!” Faith in God who transforms our sinful nature, breathes life in decaying relationships, recreates hopes that are dead and makes possible that which seems impossible. But this life with God requires faith – a living trust in God’s character and ability to do that which is impossible for me (Romans 4:21).
What does this promise of the God of the resurrection mean for you today? What transformation in your nature, in your body, in your relationships, in your business or in your community is possible? If indeed the triune God lives with you through his indwelling Spirit, what is too big to face? What could be possible through faith?