I remember being new to Christianity and having a million questions I never had before. There was a lot to learn, and some of it was difficult for me to understand or imagine as being so. The first time I went to a Sunday service I thought that everyone in there surely was a Christian. Anyone who studied the Bible and sang God’s praises and brought their children to church must be godly. Subsequent conversations of spiritual concepts with those who knew much more than I would present me with the assertion that not all is as it seems in the sanctuary. It made me wonder how it is that someone could know of God yet not actually know God. I only showed up to church because I had reached a point of knowledge and acceptance, so I assumed that everyone else there had reached that point as well. The truth is that a declaration of facts does not equal faith.
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
Talk about cutting straight to the heart! The beginning of my faith journey was marked with many scriptures that stood out to me because conviction was doing a great work in me. There was so much in that book that I either had not known or had known and rejected, and so many of my ways were not aligned with God’s. This was one of the verses that really made me look at myself critically. My adolescence and young adulthood was marked with one spiritual exploration after another. I would have said that I was on a search, but I am not sure now that I was. There were times when I committed to believing in no god at all, yet I would cry out to the ceiling above my bed every night asking for help and relief. I always traveled with the Bible and even claimed that it was my favorite book, but that was completely at odds with the way I lived my life. There was something inside me that knew God was there, but that knowledge did not produce one ounce of actual faith in me.
Hearing this scripture for the first time after getting saved painted for me a picture of myself when I knew in the back of my mind that God, the real God, was there yet never went beyond that point. I lived a very sinful life, but I probably would have said that I was a pretty good person. I certainly would have expected those close to me to say that I was a good person. I would have told anyone that I was spiritual, but I never would have confessed to be a Christian. The facts of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice were facts that I accepted as true, but that sacrifice had not transformed me because I had not seen it as anything but a historical event. I knew that it happened, but it was not a part of my life. Imagine my shock at the prospect of people around me in that church perhaps being in that same place. Could it be that some of those who sang to God right next to me were still lost? Was it not enough to say that Jesus died for our sins? Was it not enough to sing those songs and say those prayers?
By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, “In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.
My early faith had me dividing people into two groups. These groups were based on the person I was before Christ and the person I became after him. The first group of people were those who did not know God. For me, these people might have known of him but never actually knew him. The second group of people were those who knew God personally, and that is who I thought surrounded me every Sunday morning. This was all very black and white to me, and my reasoning was simple. Those who never knew God personally but simply knew of him, those who were walking around with only a factual knowledge of God, had to be the only people who were not following him because anyone who came to know him personally surely would want that relationship with him. The God I met was awesome and incredible even if He demanded that I change so much about myself. It just did not make sense to me that someone could meet that same God and decide to stay lost, or to spend perhaps some time with him and then go back to the way things used to be.
As I studied the scriptures more and more, I realize a very fundamental truth of ours. The lost are not necessarily ignorant of the God I serve. There are those who plainly reject him. Some of them do not believe in the facts of our faith. They think the garden of Eden is a myth, the Old Testament is a series of valuable fables, and Jesus Christ was just a good teacher. Some will be raised in the Church and decide after years of learning and consideration that they would like a different kind of life. The sad reality is that some will be presented with the truth and acknowledge the truth yet reject it. It is not necessarily that they will find it to be false, but they rail against the precepts of God. Whether out of pride, selfishness or the desire to be gods themselves, they will take what they know to be true and throw it away. I had not considered that some might know yet turn away. I had not considered that some might just be faking it and not really feeling it. I just assumed that exposure to the truth naturally brought about change.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
I think most people, if asked, would say that belief is a product of the mind. For example, I could ask someone to believe that I am a descendant of Egyptian kings. That person would probably laugh before asking for some kind of evidence that this is true. If I could produce such evidence, then he or she would believe that the claim I have made is true. This is a factual and logical analysis that says if the evidence exists, then the claim must be true. There is no emotional or spiritual component to this. Believing in God, however, is not a matter of the mind. Again, the facts do not get us there. Something more must happen, and there is a critical reason for this. The facts we are asked to believe do not adhere to man’s logic. We are asked to accept impossibilities and that which we simply cannot understand with these minds. This is the crux of moving from facts to faith. Our belief cannot take place in our minds but must take place in the heart.
I said a prayer on the day I got saved, and it was a pretty long prayer. I was asked to repeat a scripted version of the sinner’s confession, then I had a chat with God. That was not a logical conversation. I never thought to plead my case with some kind of reasoning to convince God to let me in his club. It was a pouring out of my heart and everything I was saving in there. That is where this all took place. Actually, I had only been to one young adult service and that Sunday morning service on the day I got saved, so I did not have many facts to go by. I confessed who Jesus was out of acknowledgment of the truth, but that confession carried no weight without submitting myself to that truth. We must give ourselves over to this truth and to this Lord for faith to be produced. Knowing who He is and what He has done is only part of the equation. If we still live and operate according to some other system or ideology, even if it is simply our own, we just have not gotten there yet.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
This faith of ours, if it is genuine and exercised as God has designed, will place us in a cycle. When we first come to him, the scales fall from our eyes. We see ourselves how we are, we see the world how it is, and we see this perfect grace before us calling us forward. It is the ultimate moment of humility to be drawn in by the holy One in all of our filth and nothingness. When we see ourselves with clarity in comparison to him, we can be only overjoyed and astonished that He would want us. As we go from this honeymoon phase of awe to the daily development of our relationship with God, we should be amazed daily. We might not understand immediately everything we learn about him, but this journey should be exciting for us. Knowing that He is there to save us from all that wants to destroy us made us run to him without looking back. Knowing him more and more each day, over weeks and months and years, should make that desire to run toward him grow.
Those who earnestly seek God are chasing after him daily. They live in a cycle of seeking, then finding, then seeking some more. They are not satisfied with what has been learned because they understand there is infinitely more of him to know. It is like the preview to a movie. Three minutes of action or comedy or suspense are meant to draw us in to see everything there is to see in that film. God gives us previews and glimpses all the time if we just seek them. No one should say that he or she desires to know God more but simply cannot get there. Not only is God available for us to see and understand, but He wants us to pursue that. This gives him pleasure. It might not work or look the same every day. Sometimes what we learn of God comes from just waiting for an answer. Sometimes what we learn of him is a marvelous revelation that hits us at our core. It is all valuable and all necessary. He is an open book, but we must have a desire to read it. That is figurative as well as literal. Seeking him this way will yield rewards, and those rewards are signs that mere facts have become faith.
1 Jn. 3:21-24
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
The faith that is produced in our hearts when we submit to the truth of Jesus Christ, his sacrifice and his resurrection does not remain there. We do not save this faith in that one place without letting it produce fruit. To stifle our faith in that way would be to kill it. The purpose behind that faith is to produce fruit as a sign of that faith. We can look at faith as a challenge. We first are asked to believe with submission. Once we do that, we are presented with the classic if/then statement. If we believe this, then we should be doing that. If we have been transformed from those who follow our own ways or the ways of false gods into those who follow the ways of the Lord, then our ways and the fruit of our ways certainly would change. Not only do we live according to a different standard, but God himself resides within us through his Spirit. That Spirit is what produces his own fruit through us. Whether this is love manifest as words or actions, it always is love manifest. It can be soft, it can be corrective, it can be assertive or silent, but it is love for the Father and for one another that produces the fruit of faith.
I cannot be the only one who has asked himself where his faith stands. I cannot be the only one who has measured himself against a scripture like this and tried to find the fruit in his life. This is not an exercise in doubt but an exercise in wisdom. Scripture tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and that means that we must seriously guard our faith. When the word instructs us on what the evidence of faith is, that is not for entertainment. God wants us to know when our faith and that of our brothers and sisters is genuine and working as designed. We need to make sure that we are corrected and redirected if we start to lose that fruit. We also need to correct and redirect our brothers and sisters in that same situation. It takes a church to raise a Christian, but that growth never stops. There is one who would love for us to regress, and we will face opposition to our growth. We must be mindful of the evidence of the healthy growth of faith so that we can make sure that ours is not stunted.
We move from facts to faith when the history of the Bible becomes our present reality. This requires our submission to the truth, and that is evidenced by a genuine change in our manner of being. Some will acknowledge the facts but never submit. Others will discount the facts altogether. Still others will submit for a time and then decide to believe otherwise. Then there are the faithful, and they will believe not only with submission but with a continued hunger to have more of God. They will submit to his Spirit dwelling within them, and He will make them fruitful. Our Lord wants us to recognize this process so that we can jealously guard our faith for the treasure that it is. He also wants us to guard the faith of our brothers and sisters because this is a group effort. We will encounter those outside and inside the Church who have not moved beyond the facts. Let us ask for the discernment to see these people and to know how we can help move them from facts to faith.