What is Faith?

Faith – It used to mean – well, not much. I remember hearing the word “faith” way back when I was going to church as a “not even in kindergarten yet” little boy, and that’s as far back as I can remember anything. I think that’s because when it comes to church lingo, “faith” is one of the first and easiest concepts to pick up.

When you’re a kid it comes so easy. Faith is simple. It’s all about Jesus.

Jesus walked on water – impressive? sure, but at 5 you can believe that. Because you expect that kind of stuff from Jesus. It’s one of the first lessons they teach you – Miracles are His thing. Feeding the 5000, healing the blind, raising the dead – all spectacular and utterly unbelievable…except for Jesus. For Jesus Christ it’s everyday. Oh sure, it might be harder to accept if you didn’t know the bloodline, but remember, we’re talking second generation omnipotence here.

I mean, when you can ask Dad to borrow the keys to the universe, or once in while He lets you be the one to pull the sun around for daybreak – things are a little different, even miraculous things. That’s why faith isn’t really a problem. In fact, it’s never really an issue at all from the age of 4 until…well, until that day.

Everyone has a “that day.”

It’s the day you understand for the first time just how hard miracles really are to come by. You begin to understand that maybe faith is less a walk through the park than it is through the fire.

That’s because the focus of the miracle begins to change with age, pain, and experience. You begin to realize that splitting the Red Sea was impressive without a doubt, but changing the course of the sea pales in comparison to the daunting task of changing the course of a life, especially when that life is your own.

Here’s the problem, after years of Bible stories and Sunday school classes – You can close your eyes and imagine Jesus touching the forehead of a blind man and giving him sight. You can believe that because you’ve seen it in your mind’s eye a million times. But what you’ve never seen – even once, is a real change, a “last beyond the feelings”, “never be the same again in your life” kind of experience. And after all the years, tries, and failures – it’s becomes more and more impossible to believe in at all.

God bringing the dead back to life is easy to believe as long as that life isn’t your own and the death isn’t whatever your personal bondage happens to be. Pornography, alcohol, temper, lust, depression, drugs – name the death. Whatever it is, it’s hard to put down when it’s the one that’s been strapped to your back for most of your life.

That’s where “faith” can get uprooted before it ever had a chance to bear fruit.

The problem is the way it’s been presented for so long to so many.

Faith is usually highlighted as the main ingredient in forgiveness and any good Biblical story, but not so much where it’s needed the most for the rest of your life – transformation.

As in – “transforming” your life – The first honest thought most people have to that is “impossible.” You see, we may have grown up in church for years. We may be the ones not only singing the new faith songs, but leading the choir or now, we may even be the ones telling the Bible stories to the new 5-year-olds hearing the word “faith” for the first time – but the truth is we’re not quite sold on the idea of “faith” ourselves.

We have enough struggle grasping forgiveness. We can only pull that off because we understand it has more to do with God’s mercy than our worth.

Real faith is another matter.

The majesty and power of Almighty God, I have no problem comprehending. Believing that Christ was sent as the “only begotten son?” I can swallow that completely. But the fiercest fighting my soul faces over faith isn’t trusting in God to be my Savior, and creator. It’s believing that He’s my re-creator. Move a mountain? YES! Change me? Unlikely. That’s one boulder a little too enormous for me to believe will ever get rolled away.

Speak the sun into existence, and build creation in seven days, but as impressive as that is, it’s easy to believe because it’s been done. I live, breathe and walk in creation every day. I’ve seen it. But what I’ve never really seen, is what I’ve always ached for most – strength in my life.

Addiction,… fear, …despair, loneliness, tragedies that break your soul and leave them in wounded pieces. When the very things I pray about today are the same things I cried and prayed about yesterday, last week, and last year, faith gets harder to come by.

When you’ve been beaten down and humiliated countless times over the same thing and by the same demons you tend to expect that the next thing to happen will be the same thing that always happens. The handling tag on most Christians reads the same: Fail, cry, repent – repeat with greater emotion.

Before too long down the narrow way “faith” is forgotten. Instead, tears, sorrow, and consequence become the things we use to measure the worth of our repentance. How long will I last this time before I take that drink, buy that magazine or punch that wall? Well – That depends on how many tears I cried when I begged for forgiveness the last time. Did I really hurt enough? Was the guilt heavy enough to teach me my lesson? Did I torture myself with self loathing and despair enough? And saturate myself in the knowledge that I am filth before an unhappy and disappointed God? If I did all of that just right then I should be good for a while at least.

But I never am. And every time I fail again my faith grows. My wrong faith. Faith that I’ll never change, faith that holiness will never take, and faith that my sin is somehow immune or greater than God’s salvation. Finally – the real definition of a miracle has nothing to do with planets, figs, or water into wine. A real miracle would mean – living a holy life, and being able to please God.

If there’s really a way to pull that off – A lot of us must have missed the verse.

Or maybe we just misread it – a lot.

Romans 5:2, 3 says that it is by “faith” that we have access to “grace” and it’s in “grace” that we stand. That’s a good verse. A really important, very much needed, often neglected and recognized as only “pretty” or “symbolic” but not really understood as intended type of a verse. That verse is the story of God and man reduced to a sentence. And if you think “faith” can be misleading, take a closer look at the word “grace.”

If “Faith” is gunpowder, think of “grace” as the bullet. And guess what? Back when I was first mislearning “faith,” I was also very careful to make sure I missed the meaning of “grace” entirely as well.

Grace is our version of the Greek word “charris,” which as it turns out, doesn’t mean what I always took it to mean. I always took it for a nicer sounding version of the word “mercy.” For instance, if a king pardoned a condemned man, if a robbed man forgave a thief, or a parent forgave the alcoholic driver who snuffed out the life of a child than, to me, those were all great examples of what “grace” is all about. I was wrong. “Grace” is not a replacement word for “mercy.” No, as it turns out “grace” is important enough to have a meaning all to itself. The actual definition given for the word “charris” reads something like this – “The divine influence of the heart which can be seen in the living of the life.”

“Grace” – It’s the secret to the hard part, and here’s how we miss it. It’s divine – which means it’s not from you, me, or anyone human. It’s purely a God thing. And it’s real. It’s not just an emotional thrill, a chill down the spine, or a flutter in the belly during that rousing version of “Amazing Grace.” It’s an “influence” that can actually be “seen in the living of the life.”

It’s a power that’s supposed to make an impact, and leave a mark. Hard to imagine isn’t it – God believing that Him coming into your heart is such a big deal, such a monumental moment that He makes sure to leave His fingerprints on your heart forever. And not just through tears and emotion, but through something deeper and Godlier, like maybe change, power, and real freedom.

But that is exactly what the miracle is supposed to be. We miss the point. We think the definition of hopelessness is when we reach a point that we finally understand that we have no hope in changing, no chance to be holy, no possibility of disciplining our way into a great Christian follower of God.

Tragically, when we finally understand this it’s usually under a circumstance that’s left us so thoroughly crushed, defeated, and ashamed that surrendering to our nature is the only justifiable conclusion our exhausted mind can reach. Then “grace” is what God uses to cover up our unchanged still-sin-filled lives, instead of an agent of transformation that can be a testament to His presence.

And we never even ask ourselves the true question of faith. We become so occupied crucifying ourselves in place of Jesus that we never stop and consider what He would do if He were in our place. And that is the only meaningful, all important question. It’s two words – Could Jesus? Far too simple for the deep spiritual minds of our day. But that’s what it boils down to. “Could Jesus” do what I know can’t be done? “Could Jesus” live in peace and strength if He had to live in my life and weakness? “Could Jesus” stand back up without falling right back down. That’s the question. Forget the praise songs filled with hymns of overcoming death in the tomb and creating life out of dirt. The only thing that matters is deciding if Jesus can overcome what causes me a daily spiritual death, and finally find a life in my dirt.

Ask yourself this question alone and consider if you have faith. – If Jesus Christ himself were flooded with all of your mistakes, all of your memories, all of your experiences, and all of your emotions, if he had walked every step and had fallen every time – could the Son of God himself somehow find the strength to live a holy life? And not just for a couple of days – That’s not good enough – because no one needs a Savior who’s only good for one more try.

The saddest part in all of the confusion is that this is the very point that most of us give up on some level, all because we never realize this is exactly the miracle Jesus died to bring us.

Somewhere and somehow the Enemy has pulled of a Grand Larceny of the Gospel. He’s managed to masterfully take hold of the point it all – the grace, which is the very thing that gives us the freedom, transformation and the sheer joy – that makes salvation actually feel like what it is – not salvation, but SALVATION!

But most of us got it wrong from the very beginning. It was taught poorly and we learned it that way very well.

That’s why years later so many of us are unchanged,still-shackled, unhappy, and unmotivated to share the miracle of God, because we haven’t experienced it ourselves.

Deep down we still know the depressing truth about who we are, and who we’ve failed to become.

So we sing the hymns, which are filled with the praises, which are written about the miracles, about the life and death of the Son of God. And we mean them – kind of – but we never get to the point where we sincerely become convinced that this same Jesus Christ can work a miracle where it matters most – in our own lives, in spite of our own failures, in the midst of our own addictions, and in the presence of so many painful memories that constantly remind us who we really are. Too many times we feel so beaten down that we don’t quite get that this is true battleground for the decision of faith in Christ, and that the enemy picked it for a reason.

Because it alone determines if you become a threat to his cause. It determines if your Christian identity is one of a barely-believer hanging on between failures trying to make it to Heaven, or a re-created disciple with a passion and a story that turns you into an unquenchable and dangerous witness for God.

And it all hinges on one realization and one decision about one word – Faith.

Do I believe that God can do miracles in the one place that’s hardest for me to believe – my life?

Ken Fox