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12

Faith and Fire
Posted by Clare

Last week I asked you to define what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Whenever I ask that question, people most often include the word faith.

And it’s true; the cornerstone of evangelical Christianity is that we’re saved by faith alone in Christ Jesus.  Period.  I believe that and hope you do too.  But, that begs this question: what exactly is this faith that saves us and how do we know that we really have it?

True faith is a lot like fire.

Here’s an explanation I once heard and I really liked:  Let’s just say you were able to get your hands on the definitive book of fire, The Complete Book of Fire.  And it was a thoroughly accurate description of the chemistry of combustion, a listing of all the elements you need to have a fire, how to start it, keep it going, cook on it, put it out – a complete book of fire.  Further, let’s say you believed with all your heart that everything the author said in that book was absolutely true – the book was infallible.

You still wouldn’t actually have fire.

It’s only when a person does what the author of the book says and brings together all the elements they need to build a fire, and an external spark or heat source is introduced to begin the combustion process, do you actually have fire.  In fact, we only know we have fire when we see its light and feel the heat it produces.  Until then, it’s only a totally reliable truth, not a practical reality.

Christian faith is like that.  When certain truths regarding our own sinfulness, Christ’s divinity, and sacrificial love for us are “brought together,” or made known to us, and we truly believe them with conviction and passion, that a source outside of ourselves, the Holy Spirit, ignites the fire of faith and we’re born again.  The best, external evidence of our faith is in our radically changed life.  People know we have faith because they see it in us – our faith brightens their life and makes it better.  Our faith becomes useful and comforting to them.  And, because of that they want to be closer to it – to us, and most importantly to the source of our fire – Jesus!

But, what about…?

So then that begs the question, “How should we think about so many children and students who make commitments to Christ at Sunday school, at Young Life Camp, or as adults at a church retreat or evangelistic service, only to be essentially unchanged a few years later?

I suppose it’s possible that a pilot light of true faith was never really lit to begin with – that their response was more emotional than heartfelt conviction.  It’s also possible in some theological traditions that the pilot light blew out – starved because it was never fed by true repentance or obedience to the will of God and a love for God.

But, there’s a third possibility; that they simply never understood that the normal Christian life is supposed to be a bonfire of faith – and they have no right to rest until it is.  They (we) didn’t just “get saved”!  Our lives now belong to God and he expects our passionate, public and private allegiance.  And if it isn’t, at least the majority of the time, perhaps we only believe in the theology of fire, but don’t really have fire – salvational faith.

Some have confidently said to me, “I know I’m saved because of God’s promise.”  “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” I John 5:13

Actually, that verse isn’t a promise we can cherry pick out to prove we can be assured of our salvation because we prayed “the prayer.”  It’s the conclusion of 5½ chapters of very hard teaching describing faith and how those who truly have it will live.  But, if we aren’t intentional about living that way, we shouldn’t take much comfort in that verse.  (Please read all of I John this week in your devotional time.)

After hearing my teaching on I John, a fellow elder once asked me, “Do you believe in the doctrine of eternal security – once saved, always saved?”  My answer?  “I do.  I just think more people claim they have it, than should.”

In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard says, “The vast majority of Christians today have been led to believe that God, for some unfathomable reason, just transfers credit from Christ’s merit account to ours, and wipes out every sin debt, upon inspecting our mind and finding out that we believe a particular theory of the atonement to be true – even if we trust in everything but Christ, in almost all other matters that concern him or us.”

Please, hear me out!

No one comes to salvational faith by living a good life.  Having said that, no one should claim to be saved by faith, if the defining characteristic of their life isn’t a love for God and others.  “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26

Fireless faith is an oxymoron.  That kind of faith holds no interest for non-Christians other than its ease and predictability.  And Jesus doesn’t have any use for it either.  It’s a faith in Christianity, not in Christ himself.

Here’s the really scary part – most of us reading this probably agree most other Christians are like that, but we, ourselves are not!  That’s the self-delusional nature of sin that keeps us comfortably mediocre’ and, I don’t mind sowing a little holy insecurity among complacent Christians if it drives them to love God and others more.

The Purpose for My Blog

On this blog, I don’t want to simply whine about this condition.  And I’ll leave theological chemistry class to others who want to debate and explain the various theories of “fire” – important as they are.  As I’ve said, I’m interested in how faith works in real life and talking about the powerful forces, both within us and externally that mess with our heads and hearts to draw us away from authentically following Jesus (imitating Jesus).

My blog has one objective; helping you build faith fires that impact everyone around you – living a life that makes God smile – and makes God look good.  And helping you resist, with everything that’s within you, the slide toward listless, beige, cultural Christianity.  I know.  Every few years or so I find myself drifting and have to repent of it.  I’m a recovering cultural-Christian.  I hope this site is for you a “twelve step program” to find your way out of religious Christianity and stay out.

I wrote The 10 Second Rule book, releasing September 15, as one way out.  No complicated formulas or theologies.  It’s a place to begin.  In living by The Rule, you’ll either become a far more serious follower of Jesus or realize fairly quickly that you just don’t have much interest.

By the way, here’s my definition of a follower of Jesus:

“A follower of Jesus has been born again by the Holy Spirit, through faith in Jesus Christ, and the evidence is a life of courageous obedience, loving God and others by imitating Jesus.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:19

My question:  What do you like or not like about my definition or thoughts on faith?

I really liked this video a friend sent me this week.

 


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Comments (12)
Comments
  1. Jeff said...

    Rom. 12:11 – not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
    Defined: fervent in spirit – to boil with heat, be hot, said of zeal for what is good.
    Romans, as the Constitution of the Christian Faith, is very pointed about what Faith is to look like. No one can know what is in the heart of a man, but faith in more than believing. Faith is action. I would agree Clare that our life must give evidence of our faith, if not, we are not living our faith, and very likely, never had it to begin with.

    Reply
  2. Dave said...

    As believers we must do our best (even that is gray) to live our lives as a follower of Christ. The “fruit” of our lives is the reflection of our faith. Understanding how to “create” fire is different that building a fire. Great blog, very inspirational……….kee’em coming

    Reply
    • Clare said...

      I believe creating the fire of faith is a work of the Holy Spirit, however the building of a “bonfire life” is a combination of free will and the Holy Spirit cheering us on and empowering us to do good works. Don’t ask me to explain it any better than that. It’s a mystery.

      Reply
  3. Jennie said...

    Thanks for your blog. I’m constantly surprised at how intricately the Spirit works. My husband and I have been following your blog and have purposed to put these things into practice. The very verses that we were meditating on were the ones that you used here! Thank you Lord for your confirmation. That you so desire us to be connected. To understand your thoughts and desires. You want to use us, in spite of our weaknesses!

    Reply
  4. Dwight said...

    Clare,
    I think you hit the nail center this week by using the word ‘imitators’ of Jesus versus followers. Not to get hung up on semantics but following someone doesn’t mean I have to ‘imitate’ behavioral traits and walk in obedience. I can have head knowledge and claim to be a follower (the faith component), but the little elevator that should lower it 18 inches to my heart is permanently out of order (the action part). There is a “Christless Christianity” that’s prevalent in many of our churches today. True, genuine faith (imitating Christ) will always costs us something of earthly value (time, talent, treasure).

    I don’t believe that we need to make The Gospel ‘relevant’ to our culture as I’ve heard many pastors say from the pulpit. The Gospel IS relevant and always will be. The issue isn’t relevance but influence. As imitators of Christ we should make it our goal to tap into the image of God found within people and offer the powerful alternative to being enslaved to sin. Action and sacrifice is what we need to be about. I need more of it myself. He needs to be greater, we need to become less. I like what Bono from U2 said to Bill Hybels a while back in an interview, “I don’t have a problem with Christ; I do have a problem with Christians.”

    Thanks for clarifying my question last week.

    Reply
    • Clare said...

      Sadly, from the website Monvee, “If Christianity were true it would produce better people.”

      Reply
  5. JR said...

    Have a question:

    I have long been described by close friends as having the gift of encouragement. I guess I will take that at face value, though it is hard to see it in the mirror. Most commonly, when the needs are presented, I say say a brief prayer (I like using “mini-prayers”) that I can be used by the Holy Spirit at that moment in time (guess that qualifies as part of the 10 second concept). But it stops there. I do the encouraging, do the good deed if you will, and let it lay there, often hoping but seldom receiving the opportunity to explain the “why” of my actions. I feel like I am waiting on the Spirit to lead the recipient to the question, for the Holy Spirit to open that door. I feel as though I am following Christ’s leading, but not quite. “Doing” but not “saying”. Am I missing something here? Do I need to practice some effective presentation or is that putting my agenda before the Holy Spirit’s? I have always been a bit perplexed by this and wondered if it is my actions that represent my words? Part of this is the fear that I might undermine the action, might alienate the recipient by “wearing my faith on my sleeve”, or saying it poorly.
    Appreciate your thoughts on this. Hope I didn’t drift too far from context of your blog.

    Reply
  6. JR said...

    Sorry ’bout this, but have an extension on my questions: Can God be glorified by a quiet servant? Or is that just a cop-out?

    I think of Mary washing Jesus’ feet. Action, no words, with a servant heart. In fact, the disciples words got them in trouble over this with Jesus.

    Are there differences among Christ’s disciples who glorify and please Him by simply doing, being quiet servants? Or is this an incomplete delivery of Christ’s command to all followers?
    I do several medical mission trips each year, delivering physical care, but having little time to measure the needs of the soul of the patient. I have a fire for this work. But is it incomplete?

    Reply
    • Clare said...

      There are all kinds of opinions on this issue, so here’s mine. I wish all followers of Jesus were as conscientious as you about serving. Wow! However, there is one way to move from very good to better and I covered it in “The 10 Second Rule”, pages 131,132:
      “Here’s how a friend of mine makes that a reality. Almost every time a stranger thanks her for doing something kind, she’s careful to say, ‘Please don’t thank me-I sensed God wanted me to help and I’m simply trying to be obedient. So please just thank him.’ ‘People who know me well don’t need to hear that statement,’ she told me. ‘They know I love God. But I want every stranger to whom I’m kind or helpful to walk away thinking they’ve just been blessed by God himself.’ What a great idea! And yet, in the first years that I followed the Rule, I missed hundreds of opportunities to give God the glory-to make him look good. Instead, I took the bow. Now I, too, try to say something similar whenever I have the opportunity-to get myself out of the limelight.
      ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.’ (Psalm 115:1)”
      Why not try making it clearer why you’re doing what you’re doing. Also you can refer people to my website and they can view GOD’S STORY, which is an introduction to Christianity. Stay tuned. More to come in future weeks on this subject. Thanks!

      Reply
  7. Leszek said...

    I like your “faith-fire” explanation. This is how I see it from practical point of view – God, ignites the fire in us – then it is our responsibility to keep adding logs, so the fire keeps burning – which for me is the daily process of sanctification – a middle part of our Salvation. Our obedience and submission to Him in daily life are the logs.

    Reply
    • Clare said...

      Greetings to my friend in Poland. The only thing I’d add to your comments are that the Holy Spirit himself continues to add fuel to our fires. As you and I discussed in Krakow, I believe sanctification is a combination of the Holy Spirit’s power and my free will.
      I also believe the Holy Spirit can over-ride my free will, or change my will any time he wants to get done, whatever he wants done. God isn’t wringing his hands, worried that if I won’t do something, it just won’t get done. He is soveriegn.I should have made that clearer.
      My greetings to Ania.

      Reply
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