Saturday, July 12, 2008

Growing and Declining in Faith

In today’s “Faith & Values” section of the Wichita Eagle the following question was presented to Billy Graham along with his answer. It is a regular feature included in the paper.

The question is a very common question, one that every “person of faith” encounters. The Reverend Graham’s answer is quite typical, and it falls far short for reasons that will be presented later in this post. First the question and the Reverend Graham’s answer:


DEAR REV. GRAHAM: A year ago I accepted Jesus into my life, and for a time I really felt He was with me. But now I find myself wondering sometimes if God even exists. Why has this happened? Is the devil trying to turn me away from God? --Q.S.

DEAR Q.S.: The devil will always try to turn us away from God; after all, this is the main thing he wants to accomplish in our lives. And one way he does this is by probing for our weak spots and trying to take advantage of them.

But don't blame everything on the devil; he doesn't deserve all the credit! The real problem, I suspect, is that after you gave your life to Jesus you thought this was the end, and it was all you needed to do. You knew your sins were forgiven.

But afterward you never did anything to strengthen yourself spiritually -- and over time you became spiritually weak. In order to survive and grow, you need spiritual food and warmth -- the "food" of the Bible and prayer, and the "warmth" of fellowship with other believers. If these were missing, your spiritual life inevitably suffered.

God has not abandoned you; He loves you and yearns for you to grow stronger in your faith. Confess your weakness to Him, and then take time each day to be alone with God in His Word and in prayer. In addition, ask Him to lead you to a church where Christ is central, and where you can grow in your faith.

The Q&A is also available here.

This question is a very common question. I doubt whether any Christian has lived in this world without facing this challenging question. It is a very disconcerting question. If left without the true answer to this question a person will despair of all hope of everlasting life or will spend a lifetime groping after what cannot be found.

Sadly, the answer given by the Reverend Graham falls short.

It falls short for a reason. That reason is actually given in the title chosen for this regularly offered column in the daily paper.

Did you catch the reason in the title?


This is the reason that the hurting individual is troubled by this dreadful question in the first place. The answer that is needed is not a pastor’s answer. The answer that is needed is not a church body’s answer. The answer that is needed is not the Reverend Graham’s answer.

God’s answer is the one that is needed.

The Reverend Graham’s answer sounds very solid to a undiscerning heart. It sounds very Biblical and godly and Christian. His answer to the hurting and troubled person is: “. . . you never did anything to strengthen yourself spiritually -- and over time you became spiritually weak.”

This is a typical response from those who count themselves as spiritual and “more spiritual” than others. This is the response that people typically expect and even seek to hear.

But is this really the answer? Upon whom does this answer direct the individual to depend?

Consider the rest of the Reverend Graham’s answer:

In order to survive and grow, you need spiritual food and warmth -- the "food" of the Bible and prayer, and the "warmth" of fellowship with other believers. If these were missing, your spiritual life inevitably suffered.

To the undiscerning heart this sounds like a very helpful answer. But upon whom does this answer direct the person to depend?

First and foremost this answer directs the person to depend on self. It directs the person to what actions the person takes to strengthen self.

Is this what the Scriptures teach?

And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
(John 5:37-40)

Is the “food” by which one’s spirit is fed the “Bible and prayer”?

Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
(John 6:28-35)

The food or bread of life is not the Bible and it is not prayer. Jesus, the Christ, is the bread of life by which the spirit is regenerated and kept alive.

The Bible does not have the power to impart faith. The Bible is the written record that declares the Word. JESUS is the Word.

The question presented by Q.S. betrays the cause of the doubts and fears and pains that this dear soul is experiencing. Q.S. says, “A year ago I accepted Jesus into my life, . . .”

This is a lie. This person is hurting because of a major misunderstanding regarding the way of faith.

No one accepts Jesus into his life.

Jesus comes into the person’s life and then that person acknowledges the presence of the Savior and rejoices in this knowledge..

This sounds trivial until a person understands the fullness of the distinction.

The Scriptures teach that kingdom of God does not come by observation. The Scriptures teach that faith does not come by an act of the human will. The Scriptures teach that a person receives Jesus and is thereby given the power or authority to be born as a son of God.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

This reception Jesus calls a rebirth or regeneration when He explains to Nicodemus the way of life in John chapter 3. He tells the confused preacher and teacher of Israel that no one can even perceive or see the kingdom of God unless that person be regenerated. Then He further explains that no one can enter into the kingdom of God unless that person be regenerated by water and the Spirit.

St. Paul writes to Pastor Titus:

But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Again the apostle writes to the saints in Ephesus:

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

By these we learn that faith is not a work that is done by ourselves but a work that God works in us. It is by the hearing of the Word that the Holy Spirit comes to us and works the miracle of faith in us. This faith is a gift of God. He gives it freely. By this faith He regenerates us. Jesus Christ, the Word, is the one through whom the Holy Spirit is given. The Holy Spirit creates faith in us and that faith changes us from unbelievers to believers.

This is truly good news to anyone who has doubts and fears about the strength of his faith. Our faith is weak on account of it being counted as our own. According to our own faith, we do not truly trust God to be merciful and forgiving. According to our own faith we are full of doubt and fear and weakness.

But according to the faith of Jesus, the faith by which He came to the world and lived without sin and then took our sin in His own body to die on the cross and be buried, according to this faith, which is preached in accord with the pure Gospel and administered in the pure Sacraments, no doubt or fear or weakness remains. This is the faith that God works. It is everlasting and it cannot fail. It is a done deed. Therefore we may rely upon it without doubt or fear, and then no weakness of faith remains.

It is essential that we know where this faith lives. It lives in the body of Christ, which is the pure and holy Church that abides in His words and works. The Lord Jesus established His Church of the New Testament in His blood. He commanded that His Gospel be preached without compromise so that all doubts would be dispersed. He commanded that disciples be made through the means of the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, that is, Baptism. He commanded that these regenerated saint/sinners be kept in His grace, mercy, and peace through the Holy Communion of His body and blood.

The Bread of Life is Jesus. The warmth that we need flows from being connected with His body through Baptism and the Holy Communion. This “warmth” is not the sense of comradery or fellowship that people often mistake for the holy koinonia. This warmth is the life that is in Christ’s blood, poured out for the forgiveness of many. This warmth is the life that is received through Baptism and renewed through the Holy Communion.

Contrary to what the Reverend Graham and most Christians imagine, Christ is not the center of life and faith for the Church. Christ is the life and faith of the Church.

When this is understood, people no longer seek to make Christ the center of their lives. Rather, they live in Christ, trusting that He is their life and their all. With this understanding, doubts and fears are washed away, for then the person no longer looks to his own faith for hope and peace and assurance, but simply lives by the faith that God gives. The person simply trusts that Jesus really is the answer, and having received Jesus through the faith that the Holy Spirit works, that person continues in the great Eucharist or Thanksgiving, partaking of the Bread of Life and being strengthened and renewed in His blood of life.

The answer really is this wonderfully simple.

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