Sunday, May 6, 2007

THREE FACSIMILES OF FAITH

SABOTAGING AUTHENTIC FAITH. As my exploration of Paul's letter to the churches of Galatia has progressed into chapter 4, it dawned on me that some of the things that sabotaged authentic faith then are similar to some of the things that sabotage authentic faith now. Just as faith can be sabotaged by worldliness, it can be undermined by attempts at greater godliness. If lawlessness is a problem for Christians, so is lawfulness.

WHAT DIFFERENCES DOES IT MAKE? Paul was concerned for the young Galatian Christians because they didn't realize the full implications of adding law-keeping to the simple faith by which their lives had been changed. We, too, can be taken in by pseudo-faith formulas without realizing how badly we've distorted or missed the path until we're far down the road.

WHAT KIND OF FAITH JETTISONS RELIGIOUS TRAPPINGS? It is likely that the Jewish believers who were influencing the Galatians did not realize the weight and implications of the imposition of their Jewish traditions on new Gentile believers. Who could ever have imagined following a Jewish Messiah without following Jewish customs? How could faith not look like religion? How could faith be practiced apart from these structures and boundaries and definitions and guidelines and laws? Perhaps we need to consider these distinctions afresh!

Three facsimiles that can sabotage authentic faith:

LEGALISM
Focus: performance, better performance, or fulfillment of a set of rules, laws, regulations and/or traditions.
Triggers to discern: traditional values, perfection, standards, measuring up, the good ol’ days.
Problem: following the letter instead of the Spirit, worshiping the tradition and/or structure instead of following the Savior.

MATERIALISM
Focus: acting in self-interest for material gain in God’s name.
Triggers to discern: seed faith, God’s going to bless you, if you had enough faith..., God wants you to be successful.
Problem: using terms and formulas of "faith" to sanctify mammon and mask self-aggrandizement.

EMOTIONALISM
Focus: predefined, sought-for emotional experiences as evidence of faith.
Triggers to discern: seek the gift, in the Spirit, transcendent experiences.
Problem: substituting transcendent experiences for faith that forms us in Christlikeness.

PARTLY RIGHT. All these can be attractive because they are partly right. And, because they point to something “more” that it would seem God deems we “should” have “if only” we would…


ENOUGH FOR ME. These facsimiles of faith all suggest that basic faith is not enough. But the message of the New Testament is clear: faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus is enough not only to forgive sins and change one's heart and direction in life, but to move one forward in a lifetime of growing in Christlikeness.

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