We’ve redefined faith. More and more today, the message from the Christian community is that faith is about this life. Faith believes God will heal. Faith knows God will get us out of this difficult time. Faith trusts that God has a greater plan for our lives. Faith understands that if we’re faithful in our service and giving, then God will pour out blessings on us. Countless sermons, songs and books reinforce the benefits of faith with stories of miracles in the lives of those who demonstrated unwavering faith.
What’s disturbing about redefining that word is there may not be a more fundamental concept in the Bible than “faith”. It’s how people in the Old Testament, before Jesus came, were saved (Hebrews 11:2). It’s how people in the New Testament are saved. It’s how we’re saved today. Believing and communicating a completely different meaning of possibly the most important word in Christianity is a serious matter.
In an attempt to be relevant and encourage the unchurched to consider Christianity, we paint a “here and now” picture of faith. Yet in trying to become relevant, we’ve become increasingly irrelevant. People expect miracles and are disappointed. Bad things – often really bad things – happen to them. So we tell them to be more faithful or to be faithful longer, and God will come through. Yet doubt creeps in if life doesn’t improve or we encounter the next major setback. Or we praise God for rewarding our faith if situations turn out like we hoped, reinforcing our belief that faith is about this life.
Understanding the Truth in Faith
God didn’t meet the expectations of so many people because we taught them to expect what God never promised. We gave them false hope for a better life but their life isn’t getting any easier.
“Here and now” faith is a fundamental departure from the definition of “faith” in the Bible. Faith means the opposite. Faith is:
- Hope for the next life through belief in Jesus Christ as our savior
- Therefore, I can endure all things, and
- Whatever outcomes occur are for God’s best, no matter how difficult
Hebrews 11:1 is considered the standard Biblical definition of the word faith. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That may seem on the surface to relate to hope in this life and most take it that way. Except the entire rest of Chapter 11 goes on to talk about the people in the “Hall of Fame” when it comes to faith – and all endured extreme sacrifices, suffering, loneliness, rejection, torture, prison, poverty, homelessness and often worse. There are almost no mentions of earthly rewards for their faith. In fact, the chapter concludes by saying that none of these great people of faith received what they hoped for in this life.
However, the point reinforced throughout Hebrews 11 is that they all did receive what faith does truly promise – eternal life. “Having confessed they were strangers and exiles on the earth”, “they desired a better country, that is a heavenly one” because “God had provided something better for us”. That’s faith! Of the “author and perfecter of faith” Himself, Jesus Christ, Hebrews 13 says “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross”. All of Jesus’ disciples suffered mightily for their belief that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, but they did so because they knew a better home awaited them. This life is short and tough – the afterlife is long and amazing – so they accepted incredible hardship, torture and many even death.
It’s not a pretty picture to present to those who aren’t Christians – much less attractive and relevant than saying faith is about rewards in this life. In fact, it’s not a pretty picture for those who are Christians because it means living our lives differently than we do now. It means our life may not improve – it could even get MUCH worse. But we’re called to take a strong stand for Christ despite possibly being mocked or rejected by non-Christian friends. We’re called to accept any outcome that God provides – not pray for a particular outcome.
Truth is Something Bigger …
The world wants improvement – it wants results. But the church should not conform to the world, nor should Christians. Ironically, the more we try to be relevant and make Christianity palatable, the more unattractive it becomes. Non-Christians know that something is missing in their lives – but they can see through the shallow faith, the near-term hope, preached by the church and their Christian friends. They know deep down it’s an attempt to “sell” them – and they’re not buying it. They know truth is something bigger and more demanding than a better life.
If they do come to church and adopt our definition of faith, there’s a good chance their expectations will be missed – circumstances may not turn out like they prayed and hoped for. We know what happens when expectations are missed – when companies promise and don’t deliver – we take our business elsewhere. In this case, so many leave the church and God behind – and they’re unlikely to come back because they feel like they gave God a fair shot.
But it wasn’t God who disappointed them – it was Christianity who sold them a rosy and wrong definition of faith.