• The BaptistWay lesson for June 15 focuses on Proverbs 3:5-6; Galatians 2:15-21; Ephesians 2:8-10.
Lots of claims are made about faith. Televangelists claim faith can make your rich. Faith healers claim faith can make you whole. Of course, most good Baptists do not buy into these claims without practicing some discernment. Still, I’ve heard churches claim faith helped them build a new building, increase their attendance and win souls for Christ. While I have no doubt faith can lead into these types of things, we are wrong to assume they directly result from faith. The unspoken equation we often buy into is the amount of faith we have is proportionately equal to the success we experience.
In his book Small Faith, Great God, N.T. Wright debunks that equation with these words: “Faith is not the mysterious ability to sail through life with a secret key that unlocks all the doors. Faith is the willingness to think and act on the basis of what we know of God (which may be very little) and to trust him that he will not let us down.” We often speak of “having enough faith” to take on a certain challenge, to donate a portion of our income or to persevere through trials. If we are not careful, we give the impression that faith grants us a certain measure of control over this life. Again, Wright asserts: “People who live by faith may not know where they are going. They do nonetheless have certainty—certainty in the God who called them and leads them.”
That’s why—first and foremost—faith is something that trusts: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Three-quarters of this familiar proverb is spent instructing what faith is to be placed in—God. “Trust in God with everything,” it says. This is followed by one small, often misunderstood statement: “he will make your paths straight.”
That doesn’t mean he will make your paths easy, or even successful. A straight path is a metaphor the Bible uses to speak of a life pleasing and upright in God’s sight. We don’t please God by our lives; we put all our faith in him, and he makes our lives pleasing.
If you’ve ever been to church camp, perhaps you’ve done the “trust fall,” where one person stands on an elevated stump, holds his arms to his chest and falls straight back in the interlocked arms of friends. The only thing the person falling does is fall. It’s not up to him to make sure everything goes well. It’s simply up to him to trust it will.
Another misconception about faith lies in the passive way it often is expressed. It’s common for surveys to ask about someone’s “faith” with the expectation they will respond with a certain religion. We categorize our faith with concrete things we believe as a Christians and Baptists. That’s well and good, as long as we realize our faith is more than a noun. Our faith should be a verb.
In Galatians 2:20, Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave himself for me.” Just because our faith is not in what we’ve done, that does not mean our faith does not do anything.
Saint Augustine is attributed as saying: “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” Perhaps, as fallen creatures, that is the most concrete way to understand how faith lives in us when we have “been crucified with Christ.”
We see faith living through people when they do things people without faith would not do.
Of course, it would be incomplete not to mention the saving nature of faith. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” In Faith Matters: What it Really Means to Believe, Paul Sands notes: “Martin Luther discovered the gospel of grace in the 15th century, and his famous breakthrough helped to inaugurate the Reformation. For years, Luther’s fear of God’s wrath had fueled an obsessive piety that allowed him no rest. He did not find peace until he realized that salvation is a sheer gift that cannot be earned by good works. Writing years later of how this insight transformed his life, Luther said, ‘I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.’”
This is the kind of freedom that saving faith brings. In many ways, it is what enables us to be open to the other aspects of faith that have been mentioned. When the burden of saving ourselves is lifted, we are freed to live and trust through faith instead of our own works.
Are you living by faith today?