Authenticating the Faith


In the parable of the sower (Matthew Chapter 13), Jesus told the story of a farmer sowing seeds to illustrate the types of faith among believers. Some of these seeds "fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root." (Mt 13:5-6). A few verses later, Jesus explained the metaphor:

20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.
21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.
Syndicated Christian radio talk show host Paul McGuire often refers to this type of believer as someone who's had a "Jesus experience," yet gradually falls away from the faith because they lack a solid Biblical world view. Jesus said that believers are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, "it is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." (Mt 5:13). We have all seen the mistakes and missteps of public Christians mercilessly laid bare by unbelievers just waiting for that to happen.

Faith is two-fold: belief in and submission to Christ. For example, faith is strengthened when temptation (or the worldly) is rejected. But only through complete trust in the Lord can temptation be rejected on a consistent basis. Jesus responded to the devil's temptations in the desert with these words: "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Mt 4:10) Faith is weakened, however, when we focus on some hapless self-centered battle to suppress sinful urges, rather than focusing on what God wants for us in our lives. Authentic faith means placing the old nature at the Cross on a daily basis. For the mature believer, the rejection of the worldly arises from conscious obedience to God's word, which goes against all inclinations of the sinful nature. In other words, it won't always be easy and it can only be accomplished by submitting one's will entirely to Christ. The quest for personal perfection and holiness is frequently the tempting alternative because its only real function is to gratify the flesh. (And it seems more spiritual in man's eyes.)

Because believers are called to "not conform any longer to the pattern of this world," (Rom 12:2), they will sometimes think that means to live in a bubble rather than face the real world. But a sheltered individual may not recognize the deception of the enemy until it is too late. In general, the world is bad not because it likes being bad, but because it is deceived. By nature, sinful man is deceived. Man can take his sinful self out of the world, but he cannot take the world out of him. Only Jesus can.

Enclaves of religiosity have had a history of dissolution and error. The praise of men, even righteous ones, within these man-made oases becomes confused with righteousness in Christ. This is the same trap that many churches today face. In his article "Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse and Neo-Evangelicalism," Miles J. Stanford discussed a recent example of this kind of doctrinal drift within the organized church. Indeed, believers are to practice separation from the world ("Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins," Rev 18:4), but that separation is first and foremost a spiritual one. And mustn't this separation conform with the Great Commission commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20? For believers to be a witness for Christ, they must be spiritually separated and function in the real world. In the parable of the sower, faith is authenticated by trouble and persecution. Trouble and persecution do not occur when the believer runs away from the world.

The retreat of Bible-believing Christians from the world today has not increased their spirituality; rather, it has only increased the numbers of unsaved. That does not sound like fulfillment of the Great Commission. We still live in the church age. Until the day Jesus returns to rule the Millennial Kingdom, authentic faith, lived by believers in the world, is the witness to Christ's message of salvation. Instead, the most visible Christians these days are the ones trying to water down the message of the Gospel in a vain attempt to please the world. By rejecting the godly to avoid appearing supra-spiritual, these Christians risk falling into a snare of inescapable temptation. By placing the cart before the horse, they become indistinguishable from the world at large. However, the believer who places their complete trust in Lord can avoid both the traps of loving the world and running away from the world.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians Chapter 10:
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
The question then is, will we be able to recognize the Lord when He extends a hand to help us out of trouble (the "way out" as Paul describes above)? We are ready when we are trusting in the Lord. If an individual puts worldly possessions, worldly attachments, and worldly truths at the center of their life, they will not be able to see the way out provided by God. If faith is in name only, if it is merely a label, it becomes simply a human psychosis. If faith is built solely upon friendships, vague memories, and emotions, it will blow away in the first strong winds. We must keep the essentials (God's Word) and jettison the spiritual fat -- spiritual fat we create out of the apathy or wantonness of our sinful natures. In its place, we must build up the spiritual muscle that comes from complete obedience to the Lord.

Faith is authenticated by its steadfastness in the face of challenges. These challenges occur naturally during the course of a believer's life. "Naturally" is the operative word; it is risking disaster to prove one's faith outside of God's Will (i.e. to gratify oneself). As Jesus said to the devil in the desert, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" In God's time, we are drawn out of the world by our faith in and love of the Lord. And just as we must be ready to recognize when He provides us a way out of trouble, we must ready to recognize when He challenges us to leave our comfort zones.

David wrote in Psalm 23:
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.