The Relevance of the Christian Faith in a Faithless Age


May 16, 2004 ~ Westney Heights Baptist Church


Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2  For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3  By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.


The Bible begins with these astounding words:


Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


Steve Zeisler says of this passage that it is the foundation of all other areas of our knowledge of God and His own interaction with us:


“[It] is the beginning point. All the other things we will say about how God interacts with his creation, making humans in his image, loving us, redeeming us, and fitting us for heaven, are based on that assertion. The very beginning finds God pre-existent, calling into being all that is.”


Much has been said over the years of the foolishness of Christians to hold the beliefs that they do. Many believe that Christians have committed intellectual suicide. In saying this the conclusion is being made that Christians have stopped making use of reason and have accepted something as true which is not true and for which there is no proof.


Josh McDowell gives a concise summary of this attitude toward the validity of the Christian faith and the Bible upon which its claims of truth rely:


For many today, the study of history is incorporated with the ideas that there is no God, miracles are not possible, we live in a closed system, and there is no supernatural. With these assumptions or presuppositions they begin their "critical, open, and honest" investigation of history. When they study the life of Christ and read about His miracles or resurrection, they conclude that it was not a miracle or a resurrection because we know (not historically, but philosophically) that there is no God, we live in a closed system, miracles are not possible, and there is no supernatural. Therefore, these things cannot be. What men have done is to rule out the resurrection of Christ even before they start an historical investigation of the resurrection.


These presuppositions are not so much historical biases but, rather, philosophical prejudices. Their approach to history rests on the "rationalistic presupposition" that Christ could not have been raised from the dead. Instead of beginning with the historical data, they preclude them by "metaphysical speculation."


Josh McDowell ~ The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (p. xxxvii)


The problem is that for all its prevalence in our culture this attitude is wrong. It is more an act of dismissal than the result of an analysis. Perhaps the greatest objection to this attitude lies in its assumption that what is real can be proved by various empirical methods (known in general as "The Scientific Method") and what cannot be proved by empirical methods cannot therefore be real. Again we come against prejudice in which the basis of the conclusion is found not in fact but in preference.


Many Christians, however, seem to be unable, or unwilling, to defend the validity of their faith to those who would challenge it. Yet the Bible encourages Christians to defend their faith, not with weapons of war leading to death but with weapons of reason leading to life:


1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.


2 Timothy 2:23-26  But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. 24  And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25  in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26  and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.


The Bible makes no allowance for the idea that faith in God cannot be based upon facts. In all instances in the Bible where dialogue takes place between those devoted to God and those who are not and conversion does not take place the cause is not a lack of evidence but a lack of desire on the part of the doubter to believe. An excellent example of this occurs when Paul is defending himself before the governor Festus, King Agrippa and Bernice, his consort:


Acts 26:24-29  24   Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!" 25  But he said, "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. 26  "For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner. 27  "King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe." 28  Then Agrippa said to Paul, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian." 29  And Paul said, "I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains."


Agrippa did not become a Christian. Not because the proof was insufficient but because he did not wish to. If proof alone were all that was required Agrippa would have been saved. The proof was overwhelmed by his desire. That this is not limited to the Bible is demonstrated by the inability of opposers of Christianity throughout history to effectively negate its supporting evidence and who yet remain alienated from God.


Now there can be no rational doubt of God. His existence is demanded by all that we see. Every society throughout history has developed some concept of an originating power that caused the universe. Regardless that this power has been variously conceived as personal and caring, personal and uncaring or impersonal and incapable of care the fact remains that each development of the idea of an originating power understood that such an originating power was necessary to the existence of all that is. Depending on one's beliefs faith is either placed in a power that is real and worthy of trust or in a power that is false and which is utterly untrustworthy. Paul has made an eloquent argument showing the undeniability of God simply through the existence of the universe:


Romans 1:16-20 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." 18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

    19   because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead


We come now to the reason why Christians are so often accused of committing intellectual suicide: People hear a Christian say that he has faith in God and conclude that he has stopped using his mind because science has not proved the existence of the God in whom he has placed his faith. Quite simply it is understood to be as unreasonable as saying that on has faith that they will live longer because they sleep on linen sheets every Tuesday night. To their mind there is no fact upon which that faith can be built and it can therefore not be trusted. They understand that the Christian is putting his faith in a thought rather than in something that is real. We hear people say that they "have made a leap of faith" meaning essentially that when they came to the cliff beyond which reason could not take them they leapt off and landed on something that they did not know was there, what they landed on took them by surprise. Outsiders would refer to such faith as "blind faith," faith that assumes that what is believe is there regardless of if it is or not.


The Bible has a great deal to say about faith but one thing it never says is that we must abandon our minds in order to have it. There is no doubt that faith sometimes seems to be something we use when reason has either failed us or taken us as far as it could. But this is never the case as some knowledge of what we place our faith in is required in order for us to actually place our faith in it. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews defines faith as follows:


Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2  For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3  By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.


Faith, as the Bible describes it is not something out in the void with nothing to hold onto but is built firmly upon God's own testimony of Himself, upon events that have actually taken place and upon words that have actually been spoken. The apostle John repeatedly refers his readers to the fact that he witnessed the events of which he wrote:


1 John 1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—— 2  the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—— 3  that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.


Our faith is in God but is possible because He has introduced Himself to us and this is the real reason that the world believes we have stopped using our minds. As has been said earlier there is today a general philosophical predisposition to deny the existence of God. If someone has already concluded that God is not real then it makes no sense (in that person's mind) when someone affirms his faith in God. It would be to us like someone affirming his faith that if only he could reach the clouds he could walk across the sky. There is an evidential basis to faith that does not deny our use of reason but our faith can seem at times to stand in opposition to the current demand for empirical proof for all conclusions. (However, the current stand on evolution shows emphatically that empirical proof is not all that is necessary for someone to hold an opinion and that the lack of it does not prohibit a person from believing something that cannot be true.)


A poem that I wrote some years ago shows what I mean by this:


A Leap of a Different Kind


I came to an edge

where the reality I lived ended

upon the vast unknown realm

against which my solid world

became immaterial and fleeting

contained within

that great beyond

inscrutable yet not alien

pointed to by all

this world’s unswerving signs

the Reality beyond the real

all encompassing and the grand

confirmation of all I knew

what else could I do

but leap


and I leapt and landed


upon the Truth beyond the edge


how more reassuring

than to wander this life

avoiding Truth

only to find the edge


in death


Essentially what I was trying to say in this poem is that the leap of faith of the Christian is onto something that is known (not believed to be known but really known) whereas the leap of faith of the non-Christian is onto something that at best has been assumed but has never been known because it is not there).


But this also means that the Christian should not be placing their faith in unreal things when it should be placed in God alone. Three primary concepts arise from this:


1/ The Christian is to have faith in God alone, not in the things of this world

2/ The Christian is not to abuse his faith by putting words in God's mouth

3/ The Christian is to trust God for everything


First the Christian should not put his faith in the things and philosophies of this world. Paul warns us in Romans that we should not allow the world (in the spiritual sense) to change us but that we should be changed and maintained by God:


Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.


The outcome of the transformation of which Paul speaks is to be able to determine the will of God and separated it from our own will and the will of the world in which we live. We have been saved, are no longer as we were


2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.


and we therefore must no longer live in sin as we once did. That life is gone, as is the creature that lived that life, we have been recreated.


From this first concept flows the second: That the Christian is not to put words into God's mouth that are not there. Sometimes the claims we make on God's behalf are no more than wishful thinking. We encounter problems and we somehow claim a promise of God for the resolution of those problems without His ever having said so.


When Abraham was told by God that he would have a son he could tell everyone what God had told him. He could go to his wife Sarah and tell her that she would be a mother. He could tell his friends and his servants that at some point God would give him an heir from his own body. However, the day before this promise was made by God Abraham could have said nothing of the sort. He could have said “I hope God gives me a child” or something similar but to say anything more than that would have been to put words in God’s mouth that He never spoke, even though they would have been true.


Our faith does not rest on what we know to be in line with the character of God but it rests on what God has actually said and done. It is true that God despises evil but this does not give the Christian the right to say that the evil affecting him will be removed from him simply because God despises it. Job, a righteous man, certainly never made this claim.


Yet it appears from the lives of various men and women of the Bible that they could make grand claims on behalf of God, saying things that God apparently never directly said Himself, which brings us to the third issue: That of not stepping out in faith when we should. It was said of Samuel that:


1 Samuel 3:19-21 So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20  And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD. 21  Then the LORD appeared again in Shiloh. For the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.


While this at first seems to fly in the face of the earlier claim that our faith should not cause us to put words in God's mouth I believe that what Samuel encountered is supported by what Paul is speaking of in Romans 12:2; that God will honour those whose diligent desire is to honour Him.


As is said earlier in 1 Samuel (in the context of God judging Eli and his sons for their lack of honour toward Him):


1 Samuel 2:30 Therefore the LORD God of Israel says: "I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever." But now the LORD says: "Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed."


Paul writes that faith itself is tied to "well pleasing" to God:


2 Corinthians 5:7-9  For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9  Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 


And in Hebrews we are further told that it is impossible to please God if we do not have faith and that it is must be combined with diligence in seeking God:


Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.


And James continues by showing that faith can only be shown to be real when it reveals itself in our actions:


James 2:14-26 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16  and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18  But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe——and tremble! 20  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. 24  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 25  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.


Not that our actions make our salvation sure but that they are the evidence of the reality of our faith. And here is an other problem: of how many of us can it be said that:


2 Corinthians 5:7-9  we walk by faith, not by sight?


This is not a fault of current Christians alone, even Jesus' own companions sometimes allowed the world to affect their faith.


Matthew 14:25-33 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26  And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear. 27  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." 28  And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." 29  So He said, "Come." And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30  But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!" 31  And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33  Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, "Truly You are the Son of God."


How many of us would be like Peter and allow our fear of the storm overwhelm our confidence in our Saviour? How often do we allow our knowledge of the world and how it works to keep us from trusting the power of the God who created it? The very scientific inquiry that is currently dogging Christianity was begun by men who's ambition was to observe the hand of God at work in the creation in which they lived. They had faith that the mind behind creation would reveal itself in an orderly manner and many astounding discoveries later the orderliness of creation remains undisputable. But how many of us today have more faith in the results of human inquiry than in the God whom we are to inquire after? When we feel pain we immediately make a doctor's appointment and beg God for healing when the diagnosis has been made rather than calling upon God first. Not that going to a doctor is wrong. What is wrong is going to the doctor believing that he has power over your life instead of God. When Peter stepped out of the boat he did not first put on a life preserver. Yes, he grew afraid of the storm and began to sank but when he sank he did not call to his friends in the boat to come and get him, he called out to God. He may have doubted but his faith, when rediscovered, was upon the truth.


One of the interesting points of Peter’s walk on the water with Jesus was that he got out of the boat alone, no one came with him, no one encouraged him, it was just Peter and Jesus out there in the middle of the storm. It has been said that one with God is a majority. This is a lie. One with God is not a majority. Saying this places far too much importance upon ourselves. God is a majority and we merely accompany Him as He performs His will. Too often we fear being alone. C. S. Lewis refers to this in his book Prince Caspian, the third volume of his allegorical Narnia series. At one point one of the main characters is told what to do and where to go by Aslan, the Jesus character of the series. None of her companions either see or hear Aslan’s instructions and so deny the reality of her encounter. Out of fear of being alone she continues with her companions until eventually things become so bad that she is able to convince them that the route that Aslan had recommended was the right one. Later, having safely arrived at their destination she asks Aslan what she should have done instead of going on with her companions and He tells her simply that she should have gone alone, that it was more important for her to do what she knew by faith was right than to remain with those whom she knew remained in the wrong after being told the truth.


We rely so much on the predictability of our day to day endeavours and the need for everything to go well that we often miss the best that God has planned for us. We get so wrapped up in this life that we forget that there is a far larger one ahead of us for which we ought to be preparing. The entire purpose of this life we are now living is not to gain recognition, it is not to be able to retire and enjoy the rewards of a lifetime of planning, it is not to become as wise as we are able or to retain the good pleasure of our companions along the road. The entire purpose of this life is to make us, as individuals, ready for eternity. Our today matters only in how it prepares us for our tomorrow. John Ortberg has written a marvelous little book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. The title pretty much says it all. Sometimes we have to step out in faith knowing that the next step we take will rest upon the God who has created both ourselves and the universe we inhabit and who has done everything necessary to save us. We need to know the One in Whom we are placing our faith. Dale Brunner writes of Jesus' identification of Himself in the passage above that He is not merely saying "Hi, it's Me" but that His words should be more accurately translated as


"Courage! I AM! Fear not!"....Jesus is not just identifying Himself...this is a revelation that the God "I AM" is in their midst.


Sometimes, as in the case of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died, God needs for things not to go well for us in order for His will to be performed. But we can be encouraged by the words of Paul that say:


Romans 8:26-28 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27  Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.


This is ultimately how our faith should be seen. Not in the gathering of the best for ourselves and the surrendering of bits and pieces for the will of God, but in the surrendering of the whole of our lives to His control so that He can be glorified in our trust of Him.