If you are observing a person’s faith, how can you tell if that faith is strong? That sounds like a very simple question that should have a very simple answer. But neither the question nor the answer is simple.
We do have some ready made answers for that question. Ready made answer number one: Look at the person’s life and see how the person acts. I have been working with Christians for years. My objective is very simple: guide and direct the person in a way that he or she finds spiritual help. I have worked with Christians who occupied prominent roles in the congregation, who had the appearance of someone genuinely devoted to God. But some of those Christians had either a secret life or a secret problem. The observable appearance looked impressive. The secret reality was tragic. A person may look like he or she has faith, may work like he or she has faith, when in reality the person has very little faith. They play the religion game really well, but they have a weak faith in God.
Ready made answer number two: Look for doubt or questioning. If the person has a strong faith, he or she has no doubts; he or she does not ask questions. They have “blind faith”–they trust God without questioning or thinking.
Fanatics have no doubts and despise those who have questions. Prejudice has no doubts and despises those who ask questions. Bigots have no doubts and resents those who have questions. The naive have no doubts and are deeply skeptical of anyone who has questions. Zealots have no doubts and regard anyone with questions as a serious opponent.
Any perspective that reduces matters to oversimplifications holds to the oversimplifications without doubt. Oversimplified perspectives also regard those with questions as an enemy.
Faith is not a fact to be possessed; It is a confidence to be advanced and developed.
Any person who has faith at all times both has it and is developing it. There is a direct correlation between having occasions of doubt that raise hard questions and the development of the confidence that the Bible calls faith.
Let’s examine the healthy connection between doubt and faith.
In our last lesson we carefully examined the types of faith that exist in the process of faith growing toward maturity.
We looked at those types of faith as growth rings in a tree.
We emphasized that this is a growth model, not a good versus bad or right versus wrong model. Typically: Faith begins as family faith or absorbed faith–the faith that a person absorbs from his family.
It grows to group faith or environmental faith–the faith that a person derives from being a part of a congregation.
It often grows to cause faith or moralistic faith–the faith that identifies and adopts a cause.
It grows to need faith or awakened faith–the person becomes aware of spiritual needs that are survival needs.
It grows to God faith or relationship faith–the person trusts and depends on his personal relationship with God; the person “owns” his faith.
In this typical growth model for faith, questions that arise from the person’s doubts are commonly instrumental in faith growing from one kind of faith to another.
- Doubt and questions play an important role in faith making the transition from family faith to group faith.
- Again, they play an important role in faith growing from group faith to cause faith.
- Still again, they play an important role in faith growing from cause faith to need faith.
- And yet again, they play an important role in faith growing from need faith to God faith.
The traditional view of faith is that doubt is evil and evidences the absence of faith.
Some forms of doubt are evil and exist only as destructive influences–they exist to destroy.
Other forms of doubt are neither destructive nor constructive.
- Whether these doubts destroy or build depends on the response of the person to the doubt.
- If the person seeks to increase understanding because of the doubt, it is constructive.
- If the person seeks honest, open answers to questions raised by the doubt, it is constructive.
- If the person uses the doubt to increase dependence on and closeness to God, it is constructive
- In the matter of developing faith, this kind of doubt strengthens and educates the confidence or trust called faith.
The Bible documents clearly that the constructive use of this kind of doubt is a part of the process of developing the faith or dependence God wants all of us to have.
Let’s illustrate the link between faith and doubt that produces the mature faith God wants us to develop.
Remember that Abraham is the Christian’s model for the faith that makes us righteous.
When Paul wanted to use an example of faith to illustrate the faith God wants to exist in Christians, he used Abraham’s faith (Romans 4).
4:1* ¶ What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?
2* For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3* For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
4* Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
5* But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
When James wanted to use an example of faith to illustrate the faith God wants to exist in Christians, he used Abraham’s faith (James 2:14-26).
21* Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
22* You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
23* and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.
I want you to consider what we are going to call faith graphs.
In each faith graph, the vertical side is marked off in faith units with 100 faith units being perfect faith.
The horizontal side represents any point in time in a person’s life.
Faith graph one represents what many Christians think faith should be.
A person will never have perfect faith.
But at any point in time in his or her life his or her faith should be somewhere between 70 and 85 trust units.
If at any point in time it should rise above 85 trust units, that is wonderful.
However, if the person’s faith falls below 70 trust units at any time, the person is in serious spiritual trouble.
The further the trust units fall, the more serious the trouble.
In the traditional view of faith, if a person’s faith is close to somewhere above 80 trust units, that would be ideal.
- If there is a death in the family, it remainsthe same.
- If there is critical illness, it remains the same.
- If the congregation has serious problems, it remains the same.
- If he is incredibly blessed, it remains the same.
- Faith would be steady no matter how good or bad things became.
Faith graph two represents real life.
The reality for all of us as Christians is this:
- There are moments when we have great confidence in God–we trust God in astounding ways.
- But there are also moments when we really struggle to keep any level of confidence in God.
- There are some matters that we trust to God without hesitation.
- There are other matters that we do not want to put in God’s hands.
Consider the graph:
When we are baptized into Christ, we enter at 80 trust units.
We have a problem about our job, as we pray earnestly for God’s help.
- The problem is resolved in an amazing way.
- Trust units jump to 90.
Our father and mother become invalids when a drunk driver slams into their car, and trust units plummet to 40.
We pray, study, learn, and stop holding God responsible for the work of Satan, and trusts units climb back to 70.
We discover that our child has leukemia, and our trust units plummet to 30.
In our weakness we turn to God completely broken, and God sustains us–and our trust units rise to 85.
We receive an incredible new job and new opportunities in a new spiritual environment that blesses us beyond imagination, and our trust units rise to 95.
All of us are on a roller coaster ride with our trust hitting peaks and our doubts falling into valleys.
Because of the way we have been taught to look at faith, our reaction is, “That is wrong! That is either the proof of unacceptable weakness or a lack of conversion.”
Consider the third faith graph, a graph that depicts Abraham’s faith.
Acts 7:3 says that God asked Abraham to leave his country and family before he moved to Haran.
- This corresponds to Genesis 11:31 when Abraham moved with his father and family to Haran.
- I would place that at 50 trust units.
In Genesis 12:1-4, after his father, Terah died, God directed him again to leave his family and Haran, and made him promises that were dependent on his having a son.
- This time Abraham leaves his family and Haran when he is 75 years old.
- He takes his nephew Lot with him.
- I would place that at 60 trust units.
In Genesis 12:10-20, Abraham left Canaan and went to Egypt because Canaan was experiencing a severe famine.
- He is afraid that the Egyptians will kill him to marry his beautiful wife.
- So he lies–he refuses to acknowledge that she is his wife.
- I would place that at about 30 trust units.
In Genesis 15:1, 2 God renews His promise and Abraham begs God to allow Eliezer to be his heir.
- We would place that at about 40 trust units.
In Genesis 15:4-6 God declared his heir would be his own son, and Abraham believed God’s promise, and God reckoned that faith to Abraham as righteousness.
- We would place that at about 80 trust units.
In Genesis 16:1, 2, Sarah said that they obviously were not going to have a son, so take her handmaid, have a child by her, and it would be the son of promise. Abraham agreed to do as she requested.
- We would place that at about 40 trust units.
In Genesis 17 God renewed his promise to Abraham when he was 99 years old. Verse 17 says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed at God’s promise.
- We would place that at below 10 trust units.
In Genesis 17:21 God declared that this child would be born in a year.
- Abraham renewed his confidence in God’s promise.
- He had every male that worked for him, Isaac, and himself circumcised that very day.
- We would place that at 80 trust units.
In Genesis 20:2 Abraham is in Gerar telling the king that Sarah was his sister.
- We would place that at 40 trust units.
In Genesis 22:2 God told him to take his son of promise and offer him on an altar on Mount Moriah. Abraham immediately made preparation, made the trip, and had
Isaac ready to kill.
- We would place that at above 95 trust units.
Please notice that Abraham’s’ great faith had moments of grave doubt.
- He is not the example of faith because he never doubted.
- He is the example of faith because his times of doubt led to renewed confidence in God’s promises.
- It was working through the doubt that produced the kind of faith that was willing to sacrifice Isaac without hesitation.
- His faith reached the point that it had absolute confidence in the God who gave him Isaac rather than faith in the fact that he had Isaac.
The existence of occasions of doubt do not prove that you have no confidence in God.
The existence of doubt may be no more than occasions when your confidence is being challenged to grow and mature.
The key questions are these:
- Do you have confidence in God’s promises?
- Do you trust the God who made the promises?
- Or do you trust the gifts that God has given you?
Examine your faith in a way that will allow it to grow.
(thanks to David Chadwell for the adapted notes above – Thanks David!)