“Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”, or in another translation “Faith is the Reality of what is hoped for” .Hebrews 11:1
We read of Abraham on a journey, that Sarah would have a child, they may be secure. After our chosen verses it speaks of the faith of Moses, of Gideon, Samson and David – all Old Testament heroes. It is always important to read of the passages either side to any text.
“For a text without a context is a pretext” was the mantra during my theological training.Queen’s Theological College, heard repeatedly in classes
The Book of Hebrews speaks of a perfect priesthood that of Jesus Christ, not one on the Earth such as the High Priest. The High Priest was a temporary appointee who would offer a sacrifice over a repeated period to redeem humanity. The author of the book encourages people to persevere in their faith. That author, as according to scholars suggest that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews, may have been addressing those in Rome at the time given one of the last greetings. Hence it may well have been written in the latter part of the first Century, well after Paul’s death, after the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans. It was only introduced into the Western Church Bible in the 4th Century. The letter speaks to people of faith who were not in good spirits. They needed to have faith. Let’s explore this and see what it might say to us today.
The Church is built upon this foundation stone of faith – we need faith, it’s all that we need. Of course it was never always like that. There was for many centuries the doctrine of Justification by good deeds. If we do not sin, if we do good to one another then good things will come to us. Many folk still adhere to that principle.
It was with the Reformation and Martin Luther who declared “sola fide” or ‘by faith alone’ do we know of justification by faith. Wesley clearly understood that we are saved by faith, not by good works. This came as a result of his experience with the Arminian missionaries on the boat to America. Wesley called it sanctification, a lifelong journey of becoming closer to Jesus, we moving ever closer to Jesus. Also recall that when he listened to a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to Paul’s epistle to the Romans, speaking of faith alone, it was here that Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed.
If we have faith then we may be saved.
A question: how much faith do we need? Can it be measured? Are we allowed to even doubt for a moment, as that might be sufficient for us to fall below the heavenly line, and never make it? We all doubt…don’t we? What if we doubt a lot?
This all suggests that it is up to us. If we have sufficient faith then all is well. Where is God in all this then?
The Apostle Paul argued strongly that it was by faith alone that we receive salvation. In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes that ‘the only thing that counts is faith working through love’.
Later, Martin Luther said it was all down to our ability to believe, to muster the right thoughts, enough of those right thoughts, and with the right intensity. I think this creates ‘salvation anxiety’. If we can’t sustain this level of faith, what happens to us? What happens when we doubt?
I’d like to ask another question: how does this translate to those outside of the church? There are many seats seen in Churches today, empty, available for those outside, who maybe shopping, sleeping, watching TV. Those people also doubt.
Many might see those of us who identify as Christians are ones who need to be good. How many of us have been told “I didn’t think Christians could do that?” if we on the odd occasion swear or not follow the expectations or rules? The Bible is known, when I was a child, as ‘basic instructions before leaving Earth’ or as a book of guidelines for life; so many people quote verses which say you can’t do this or that etc. Is that what our life as Christians is about? I wonder what people might think of Christianity if they knew that it wasn’t about whether you were going to Heaven or experiencing/having a life with God now, knowing that God’s love is with us always.
Steve Chalke, pastor of the Oasis churches, has suggested recently that the word that Luther translated as faith from the Greek word, pistis, could equally refer to faithfulness. Not such a significant change you might think, or is it?
I am trying to start running again. I used to do a lot in my earlier days; in fact, I did far too much at times. Getting back into the swing of it has been difficult – the years have gone by and the legs don’t move as fast… especially trying to get out of the bed in the morning…. As I run I try not to look too far down the road or the canal bank: because (1) I might fall off the path, dodgy especially with the recent wet weather (2) I need to focus upon where I am. When I come up to a hill, I sometimes struggle. My pace slackens and…I sometimes start to walk….or even stop. Have I failed? Well, yes I haven’t completed the run non-stop. But I start again, that’s the important bit!
Faithfulness is about keeping running come what may.
Mandy & I have been married for 32 years. Married life starts with some huge commitments: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health..
When circumstances strike, it may not be so easy. It requires lots of effort, finding new ways to learn to love and live together, facing up to our fears and life’s uncertainties. It’s often about just hanging in there. That’s called faithfulness. It is not about the depth of our feelings, the consistency of our feelings, how focused we are all of the time. As life our feelings may ebb and flow. But it’s about keeping going as we strive to love.
Chalke talks of ‘ “choosing to live faithfully to anything” means engaging with your doubts rather than ignoring them, because living ‘intentionally’ is a demanding route to take through life’.
This bit is key.
If faith leads us to to ‘belief’, a set of theories or doctrines, then we may not confront those doubts. We’ll hide them, not want to discuss or dig deeper. Whereas faithfulness is about a life lived to a made commitment. Living faithfully is a choice made in the face of doubt and setback.
What causes doubt for us? Do we resolutely, bravely, go forward ignoring those doubts, or confront them, discuss them with others? In Todmorden we have a monthly discussion group where we listen to a speaker for 5 minutes who introduces an issue which might well be confrontational. We have discussed same sex marriage, fasting, euthanasia, paganism, folklore and magic, soon what it means to be transgender, and then arranged marriages. Then we discuss it: we being Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Pagans and Atheists. We hear from those of other faiths and none about their perceptions, we offer our thoughts. We can then reflect on what we believe. It isn’t about taking on board pagan beliefs, or dropping what we believe, it is that freedom to openly discuss our doubts but still believe.
This isn’t a product advertising campaign where everything appears perfect.
For those who are not Christians they hear that it isn’t so clear cut, that we struggle at times, we doubt, but we continue onwards. We don’t feel second class Christians, but ones who are faithful, wanting desiring to live our lives for God. Perhaps when we read faith we might wish to consider its meaning as faithfulness.
So by God’s grace we are saved, not by our work but by God’s love. We are God’s people, we are called to living the best way of being human, the most fulfilling way of being human. It’s not about a threshold of acceptability, of sufficient faith.
It may not about us inviting Jesus into your heart…but Jesus inviting us into his heart, so that we live.