Faith and Fire
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.