Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Character: Is it something you HAVE or something you ARE?

Body modification is a subject that comes up from time to time in christian circles. Used to be that only crusty sailors, bikers and a thug sub-culture would get tattoos or radical piercings. Now the mainstream rushes to get their 'ink-therapy' or 'skin-art'. Even many church people, following, the pattern of this world, struggle with the ethics of it for a short season and then rush off to get there body modified.

Body modification is one of those topics that avoids a head-on, plain teaching from the scriptures. I believe a strong argument can be formed from two verses in 1 Corinthians. In verse 7:4 Paul reminds us,
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

This verse makes it plain that our bodies are not our own but we must take into account how we present our bodies to our spouse, present or future.

Even more compelling and direct is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

It is my opinion that this verse may be applied to forming a rejection of the temptation to modify our bodies. Our bodies are not our own - we may not do as we please with them. I believe that deciding that we MAY do what we want with our bodies is a slap at our heavenly Father and his sovereignty over us. It's a vulgar declaration that we are little gods, child-kings who establish our own rules.

I'm not writing these things to try and make you feel uncomfortable about your tattoo or the steel through your tongue. In fact, I didn't really start this article to look at the morality of body modification. I want to turn our attention from the right or wrong of it to the WHY? Why do people do it and why has it gotten so popular?

Character is a fascinating word, for in defining the word we can arrive at two definitions nearly opposite in meaning. On the one hand 'character' can be defined as 'moral and ethical quality', 'good repute', 'qualities of honesty, courage and integrity', 'strength and originality'. Some have said that 'character' is who you are when you are alone in the dark. When there is no one to pretend or act for, who are you?

On the other hand, 'character' can be defined as 'a part played by an actor' or 'an odd, eccentric or amusing person'. A 'character actor' is 'an actor who specializes in playing unusual people rather than leading roles.' (Compact Oxford English Dictionary) So one definition is the essence of true being and the other is the practice of fakery.

Character, as in the qualities of virtue, used to be taught in schools. It was exalted in books and stories. It was expounded from the pulpits and encouraged in communities. Then there seemed to be an assault on the means of spreading these messages. The Bible was thrown from the schools, the Ten Commandments were no longer welcome in the public square. Virtues have been replaced by the anti-virtues screamed in popular fiction, television, music and movies. There is no longer a premium put on such attributes as respect, honor, manliness or femininity. Where character was once the foundation of the individual who contributed decency to the community there is now a vacuum. We once could go to our beds at night with the satisfaction that we had purpose and dignity.

Now we have stripped our young people of the virtues that form a foundation. The result is an entire generation who are looking to have character but finding no source they are forced to CREATE character. So we watch our young people become actors, eccentric, odd - specializing in playing unusual people. They trick out their cars, they wear long bright chains and jewelry, they color their hair, they tattoo their skin, they pierce the most unconventional places in their flesh, they invent new words, they use the most vulgar expressions and they don't care who hears them. Why? Because they lack character? Yes, of course but in the lack for character they are creating a character. They will have character. If we don't create a culture where they can learn true, inner character, then they will create a character of their own. To them, an obnoxious, self-absorbed, self-destructive, iconoclastic character is better than no character at all. If our culture continues to fail in planting seeds of character then society will certainly continue to reap what it has sown.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

How Do We Know What We Know? Part Four

Some Misunderstood Terms

Before we begin to build upon this foundation and make the pieces fit, we need to understand a few matters about how the structure of our beliefs will be organized.

Do you have a ‘systematic’? Yes, you do. You just found out that you have a first principle and now I’m telling you that you have a ‘systematic’ as well. By ‘systematic’ I mean a systematic theology. I have spoke to people, even some pastors who insist they don’t follow a systematic theology and they don’t like the term, but every believer has one. Once we have established our foundation, the Word of God, we are ready to start building our framework upon it. A systematic theology is a summary and organization of what we believe.

You may believe that your sock drawer has no system of organization but ‘no system’ IS a form of organization. It may not be very efficient and it may take you longer to find what you’re looking for but that is your system. A systematic theology of what we believe is necessary because it forms the link between the numerous topics and teachings of the Bible. I cannot say to you, “Ok, let’s learn what the Bible teaches about sin. Everyone turn in your Bibles to the Book of Sin.” There is no such book. There is no book of God’s Mercy, there is not Book of Prayer, instead we find books titled with ancient people’s names and the names of ancient cities. Each book is organized according to the purpose of the writer but they are not systematized according to specific topics. We need an outline to help us organize the wonderful truths that we learn each day in our Bible reading. This outline is like a tree for the leaves of gold that we will find in scripture.

Another word that gets a bad rap is ‘doctrine’. I have heard more than one preacher who, if they use the word at all, will add qualifying adjectives to the front such as, ‘cold’, ‘dry’, ‘dead’, ‘stale’. I’m not sure how this distrust of the word ‘doctrine’ got started. Perhaps they are remembering the tests and pop quizzes on doctrine from their school days but the association is not fair.

‘Doctrine’ simply means ‘teaching’. In other words, when we speak of Bible doctrine we are speaking of Bible teaching. When we say, “Let’s see what the Bible has to say about divorce” we are asking, “Is there a doctrine of divorce and if so, what is it?” Doctrine is the topic heading, and the information brought together and organized beneath that heading. Our systematic will contain a Doctrine of Sin, a Doctrine of the Cross, a Doctrine of Salvation and so on.

A well organized systematic theology begins with the fundamental or basic doctrines that form a new foundation for the doctrines that grow out of the first level. So we ask ourselves, “What is the most important doctrine?” You may be thinking that the most important doctrine is the doctrine of God. Without God there could be nothing else and so it must form the basis of our beliefs. However, the question quickly arises “Which god?”
Many believers have said things like, “Just look at a tree, doesn’t that tell you there is a God?” Well, yes it does because for the believer the Holy Spirit is interpreting everything we see to speak of the glory of God in light of His Word. But to the mind that is still in spiritual darkness it may be saying that long ago there was a great tree and the tree was god and the tree created lots of little trees.

We need to understand that the God we are speaking of is the God of the Bible. We may then conclude that the most basic doctrine is the doctrine of the Bible and again we are close. It is my hope that chapter, however, demonstrated that we must first establish that there is something called truth, that we can know it and that there must be a way to measure and confirm truth. So the first doctrine we encountered is the Doctrine of Knowledge. Once we establish that we recognize the Holy Scripture as the rule of knowledge and truth we are ready to build upon this sure foundation and place the rest of the great blocks of glorious doctrines upon it. This foundation and no other foundation will hold the weight of all that we will read in God’s Word and encounter in God’s marvelous creation.

All scriptures have been taken from the The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

How Do We Know What We Know? Part Three

There Are No Atheists
When God created the first man and woman they of course shared the same worldview. God was the creator and owner of all things and all truth came from Him. There was no way to acquire knowledge except to hear the Word of God and define our perceptions in accordance with His Word. Eve was the first to try an alternative worldview. Being encouraged to do so by Satan she changed her worldview to include other means of learning knowledge outside of a dependency on God.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3:6

Satan was telling the truth, where as Adam and Eve had only known good, (for why would a good God teach them anything that wasn’t good), they now knew good AND evil. They willfully decided to seek knowledge apart from God. The fall of man did something terrible to nature, to the promise of eternal life and to the way we perceive the world around us. Our minds had been great tools for learning and discovery before the fall; after the fall our minds became tools of delusion that work overtime to hide our guilty conscience from a holy God. We will discuss atonement in a later chapter but for now I want us to understand that the fall deeply effected our ability to know the truth.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:18-23

All mankind, all who have ever lived, are alive now and shall ever live know that there is a God and that we have offended Him. The apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of God in the first chapter of Romans is telling us that there is no such thing as an atheist. The person that says he does not believe in God is really saying, “I cannot face God for I have offended Him. I am justly under his wrath so I will do anything and everything to escape this Truth. I will create alternate ‘truths’ that are really delusions, but like the fig leaves that my grandparents sewed together they will cover my guilt.”

So men and women are addicted to fig leaves. We sew fig leaves of evolution, hedonism, drunkenness, religion, loud music, drug use and whatever we can find to stop the Truth from indicting us and reminding us that we owe a great debt - man has sinned against his Creator.

Now that we have established our authority to be the Word of God (and the God of the Word) and committed our hearts to this first principle we are ready to build upon a solid foundation.

(Go To Part Four)

Monday, October 16, 2006

How Do We Know What We Know? Part Two

Because we are trying to justify, or prove that there is a basis for knowledge by presupposing a starting point, this way of reasoning is called presuppositionalism. Presuppositionalism offers some great benefits:

• Your first principle is the basic commitment of your ‘heart’, the core of your thinking and therefore the greatest authority when reasoning.

• You do not have to prove your first principle and therefore it does not have to be settled or negotiated every time you enter into a discussion. You need only to demonstrate that it is more consistent in explaining truth than an opposing first principle.

• By making God’s Word the basis of your first principle you have established an authority outside yourself, in fact your authority is none other than the sovereign Creator of all things.

The Bible Is Self-Athenticating
Until now I have not included a single bible verse in this discussion. Before we may begin to form a biblical doctrine (bible teaching) we must establish that the bible is our authority. This means that there is no test by which we can prove the bible, the bible is the highest authority and the ultimate source of truth and knowledge. The Bible cannot be put to any test by which we would measure other literature. Science cannot test the bible for science is not a higher authority. The Holy Bible must be presupposed to be the test of all things. Therefore, the only acceptable validation of the Bible is the Bible itself - the Bible is self-athenticating.

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

What does the Bible say about knowledge, truth and itself? It is far from silent on these great issues.

“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” Proverbs 1:7 What a marvelous first principle that makes!
“all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ” Col. 2:3

Taking these two verses together we are introduced to the key element of presuppositionalism. Truth and knowledge cannot exist outside of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is no basis for reasoning outside of an understanding that God is the source of truth and knowledge. This being true, our unsaved friends and neighbors are working and arguing from an extreme disadvantage. They must borrow from our worldview in order to establish anything to be true. Will my neighbor use logic to prove there is no God? Impossible! He must use logic that only exists in and because of God in order to use logic, therefore, as soon as he or she argues logically against the existence of God, God has been established by the use of God’s logic. Reality begins with and within Jesus Christ. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

We may assume the worldview of our unsaved neighbors only long enough to show them that their worldview is lacking but we must argue from our biblical worldview for only it can make any sense of reality. What is morality without a biblical basis? Morals change with each government and convention. Ethics get defined in the context of the culture of the times. But if the Bible is the basis of morality we have a real and true authority to turn to. It is not changed by the whim and fancy of mortal and fallen people.

“The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Isaiah 40:7,8

(Go To Part Three)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How Do We Know What We Know? Part One

“Do you really believe all that Bible stuff?” my colleague asked me.
“Yes I do” I quickly replied.
“But how do you know it’s true?”

My friend had a curious mind. I don’t know how much he had thought about that question. I’m not sure if he was asking the first question that came to mind or if he had thought about that question before. It’s the GREAT question. How do we know anything is true? How do we know what we know?

I asked my friend,
“What color shirt are you wearing?” He looked down and answered with great confidence, “Orange.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I can see it.”
“Do you always believe what your eyes are telling you? Is sight the determiner of truth? Have you ever watched an illusionist perform his tricks, have you ever been fooled by special effects in the movies?
What if I am color blind, can I trust my eyes to tell me what color anything is. No, I hope you are not depending on your eyes and even any of your senses as a good source of knowledge.”

My friend stared at me with a worried smile and so I continued.
“What is color? What is orange? Light reflects off of your shirt and we measure the waves of light at a certain frequency within the visible spectrum. We get a large convention of people together and by majority vote we decide that the hue that falls within this frequency is ‘orange’. We have discovered nothing about it’s essence, we have revealed nothing about it’s nature, we have only named it and the name is an arbitrary label created through common convention.”

I had seen the look in my friend’s eyes before. It’s the look of one’s world starting to shift and teeter. His mind was racing down familiar avenues but everything was beginning to blur. Names were falling off of once familiar items - the deck of cards was slipping toward collapse and he was finding no means to stop it.
He looked back down at his shirt and then at me and asked, “Then what color IS my shirt and how do we know anything?”

What a wonderful question! It’s a question that strips away all of our self-delusions about perception and searches for a solid foundation for truth.

Our Worldview and The First Principle
Everyone, whether or not they have taken the time to mentally organize it, has a worldview. One’s worldview is a frame work, a skeleton on which we hang and support our thoughts and conclusions, our system of morality, our motivations and purpose. Your worldview guides your decisions and the way you live. The entire world is presented with the very same evidence and data, how we process that evidence depends upon our worldview. The evolutionist, the creationist and the proponent of intelligent design are not looking at different bodies of evidence. They see the same things but their means of collecting and forming conclusions is directed by their worldview. You have been forming your worldview since the day you were born and began collecting information. Your worldview is a complex web like processor but it sits upon one first and foundational principle. This first principle is the one statement that you assume to be true and you believe has enough integrity to support your entire worldview. A first principle, like an axiom in geometry, is unprovable. It is unprovable because it is the first principle and there is no principle before or above it that we may measure it by. What are some typical first principles?

“Life is short so grab for all the ‘gusto’ you can.”
“Let us seek the greatest pleasure in all things.”
“Do unto others as you would have then do unto you.”
“Look for the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”
“Science will answer all our questions and give us a greater future.”
“It’s a dog eat dog world and I’m going to watch out for me.”
“There is no God, we are here by random accidents so ‘whatever’.”

Here is a great way to redeem the time. Spend some time thinking about what your first principle is. Examine the way that you make decisions about how you spend your time and your resources. Look at those things you consider important and find the life principles that lie behind your considerations. Try to work back to a first principle. It will be a conviction that is unprovable and yet you have committed everything you believe to it, it IS your foundation.

The ultimate challenge for your first principle is this: though you cannot prove it, you can demonstrate that your first principle (axiom) leads to a more consistent structure of beliefs (worldview) than any other first principle.

When I began to ponder as to what my first principle ought to be I first settled on “There is a God”. This fell short in a hurry for this axiom didn’t explain which God. I eventually arrived at this slightly lengthier first principle.
“There is a God and He has revealed himself in His Word, the Bible.”

I have found that this principle has demonstrated itself to be a durable foundation for my beliefs. First it presupposes that there is a God. Second, that God reveals himself. Third, that God reveals himself in the Bible and fourth, that the Bible IS God’s word. The Christian’s axiom may be longer than my own but it MUST include these elements at the least in order to justify knowledge.

(Go To Part Two)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What Is Faith? Definition Four - Knowledge

Faith is all the elements and teachings that make up the body of what we believe. This is faith as knowledge.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God... Ephesians 4:11-13

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 1 Timothy 4:6

This faith is not just knowledge of God or the Bible but it is a knowledge that has been established and built up by faith as a vital connection and assured by faith as the ability to believe. Through this channel we are being transformed into the very image of Jesus Christ. Part of putting on that image is to learn the mind of Christ, the knowledge of the Son of God. So this knowledge is a knowledge not as the world learns knowledge but knowledge empowered by the Holy Spirit through faith. Because of the working out of our faith we work to share the gospel and God’s revelation with others. This is the faith we have in mind when we speak of sharing our faith with others and of defending the faith.

...and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ...

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Philippians 1:6,27

So in summary, faith begins as a vital connection with Jesus Christ. It is established with God’s chosen people according to his own good purpose. It is a gift of grace. Having received this faith we are also enabled to believe the Word of God - particularly that God sent his Son into the world as a sacrifice for our sin and that Christ rose from the dead. Because God has reconciled us to himself he begins to transform us into the image of his Son. He gives us new desires and teaches us to reject old patterns of behavior (repentance) and to establish new patterns (sanctification). This is the outworking of faith. Finally, all our new knowledge of Christ and His Word can be called faith. He calls us to share and defend this faith for the glory of God alone.

Keeping these definitions in mind helps us when we encounter the word faith in scripture. A good example is the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Called the faith chapter it begins with it’s own definition of faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. Hebrews 11:1-3

The assurance of things hoped for follows definition two, the conviction of things not seen, definition one. The vital connection is invisible yet it brings both assurance and conviction. The people of old were commended for the working out of their faith (definition three), and finally, faith informs our understanding (definition four) of the universe and it’s origin through the word of God. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is NOT the history of great heroes for God, but rather, of our almighty Creator sovereignly working through weak and stubborn folks just like us all. Faith is the channel through which God redeems His people and accomplishes all His purposes.

All scriptures have been taken from the The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

Saturday, October 07, 2006

What Is Faith? Definition Three - Faithfulness

Faith is faithfulness, the working out of the first two definitions.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18

An important distinction must be made here between faith and faithfulness. No one is saved by works, the believer is saved by saving faith and it is the gift of God. Saving faith is the combination of the first two definitions. Faith is always alien to the believer, it comes from the outside. There is nothing we can do to get it, it is a gift of God’s grace -

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:4-9

Paul gives a similar teaching to the young pastor Titus -
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,... Titus 3:4-5

In these passages and in numerous others Paul gave many reminders that saving faith is not of us and is all of God. However, James points out that true saving faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit must bear fruit. Though good works do nothing to gain us salvation, good works is the clear evidence that God has done a saving work inside us. Paul refers to this connection in his letter to the Philippians.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13

Great confusion can and has occurred when verse 12 is read without verse 13. We are able to perform the good works of the Spirit because and only because God first works IN us. It is important to understand that the unbeliever may appear to be doing good works but it is only appearance. Because God has not worked in them first the works of the flesh are really works apart from Christ (faith as a vital connection) and whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:23b

Therefore, the third definition of faith that we find in scripture is actually the working out of faith, or faithfulness. What does this working out of faith look like? Paul gives a wonderful list in his writing to the Galatians, we call this list ‘the fruit of the Spirit’.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:22-24

(Go To Part Four)

Friday, October 06, 2006

What Is Faith? Definition Two - Ability to Believe

Faith is the ability to believe God’s Word.
24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” John 10:24-30 (emphasis mine)

Jesus in addressing the Jewish leaders speaks here of the vital connection, I know them, and the immediate result of this connection, that is, the ability to believe Christ and his word. If a person is part of His flock than his ears are opened and those who hear the voice of Jesus will follow him.

The faith that we call the vital connection immediately leads to faith as the ability to hear and understand spiritual things. The believer takes this ability for granted but it is such an important gift from our Father and absolutely crucial to our understanding. Paul describes this gift in his first letter to the Corinthians -

12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16

We should point out here, as scripture does, that faith is the work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. This transforming work that takes place at the time of regeneration permits us to make sense of the revealed Word of God. The very things that once seemed foolish to us when we were unregenerate now not only make sense but are the only explanations the have true value to the exclusion of the things we once believed in the flesh.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. There seems to a veil over the eyes of the natural person and therefore intelligence and worldly wisdom give us no ability to discern spiritual matters. Believers will only be frustrated in any argument of spiritual things with an unbeliever. Believers will find that they speak a different language than the unbeliever, for our worldview has been expanded to include the supernatural and miraculous. The unbeliever will not accept the supernatural. The truths of the cross and the resurrection will be foolish babel to the unsaved -

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:18-21

(Go To Part Three)

What Is Faith? Definition One - Vital Connection

What is faith?

There are certain words in the bible that seem very difficult to grasp. Just when you think you understand what the word means you read it in another passage and your previous definition doesn’t fit. Some good examples of this are the words, glory, world, walk and faith. Trying to nail down the meaning of these words seems as simple as stapling jello to plywood.

In fact, the words are not that complex but they do have several different meanings and each meaning is activated by it’s immediate context. When studying the scriptures it is of utmost importance to keep the verses and the thoughts contained in those verses in their context. The word is defined by the sentence, the sentence by the paragraph, the paragraph by the chapter and the chapter by the book. “Faith” has a certain set of definitions and once understood it is simply a matter of determining which definition you have encountered in the Bible. Faith is a very important word in establishing how we acquire truth and a misunderstanding of the word can greatly distort our worldview.

You have heard someone use the expression, “It’s a matter of faith.” This phrase is often used for example in setting our system of religious belief apart from science. The implication being that science is based in fact and religion is based in belief of the unseen. This is true in part but it is wrong to conclude that science is based in fact and it is equally wrong to propose that all facts can be seen. Science is based on unseen presuppositions as well. The so-called facts of science are interpreted through the filter of someone’s worldview. In the end both science and religion stand on a foundation of belief in the unseen.

So what is faith?
Definition one -
Faith is the vital connection between you and Jesus Christ. By vital I mean it is life itself, the abundant life that Jesus spoke of. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 By connection I mean a link, a channel through which new life flows. Before Adam and Eve sinned this vital connection was evident in all the dealings between God and man but sin and the fall broke this connection. Without this connection man became a wise fool. Having been made in the image of God he was still able to reason and make decisions but his perception of God and the world around him now passed as through a dark glass. Our thinking became dull and distorted.

This distortion was compounded by the fact that we tried to cover our guilt by trying to hide from a holy God. The pursuit of self-atonement guided our thinking. The apostle Paul explains this tragedy in the first chapter of Romans.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Without the vital connection between God and man, man at his very best possesses a debased mind. Apart from this connection man can only sin and therefore we are all lost and we are by nature God haters. So as God seeks out his sheep, gathers his people to worship him the first thing that must be done is to restore that very vital connection between God and man. God does this by what the bible calls atonement and this important work of the Son will be taken up in a later writing.

Here is an illustration to help you understand faith as a vital connection. Those of us who have used land phones know what it’s like to wait on the phone company to establish phone service. You can pick up your phone and listen but you will hear only silence until someone at the company throws a switch. You can push all the buttons you want and it will have no effect. The switch thrower is acting according to his pleasure and won’t throw it until he is ready. Furthermore, the switch is either on or it’s off, there is no middle condition. If the switch is off the line is dead, if the switch is on there is a link to the world. This is what I mean by a vital connection.

Faith as a vital connection is a gift from God, there is really nothing we can do to acquire it. Jesus says it this way - No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. John 6:44 We also see this kind of faith at work in Jesus healing the man with the withered hand - Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. John 12:13 It would be foolish to say the man in his own power stretched out his hand. Jesus commanded the man to stretch out his hand because Jesus supplied the healing and power to do so; a vital connection took place between Jesus and the mans’s hand and life flowed into it for the first time.

Faith as a vital connection is either on or off, it is there or it isn’t. Jesus refers to this aspect of faith when he says - For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

It’s not the amount of faith that is important here it is whether or not faith is present. Faith is as powerful as its object. Faith does not give us power to do anything but faith as a vital connection links us to the Creator himself and nothing is impossible for God. Again Jesus reaffirms our own inability when he says - I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 Jesus makes this truth more sure by pointing out that he works through this same vital connection - So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19

(Go To Part Two)