By Dr. Don Bierle, FaithSearch President
Was Jesus serious when He asked the question, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8b). In what way can we imagine the possible extinction of faith?
In part one, I wrote that the primary distinction of Christianity from other religions is its faith object. The danger is that people tend to focus on their faith, per se, rather than the object of their faith, Jesus Christ. When they do that, faith equals “feelings,” something other religions have as well. That kind of “faith” may just as well become extinct because it is worthless (1 Corinthians 15:14,17).
The Case for an “Object” to Faith
We believe in “something.” When we fail to identify what that “something” is, we are guilty of faith in “nothing;” that is, “faith in faith itself.” That is when faith threatens to become extinct because it has no efficacy. The apostle Paul asked the question, “…how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10:14). Paul’s conviction is that for someone to have “faith” requires someone to tell them about an object in which to believe. You cannot have Jesus as the object of your faith if you have never heard of Him!
On one occasion Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes… shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes… shall never die. Do you believe…?” (John 11:25-26). By my adding the three ellipses, I hid something essential which Jesus was teaching about faith. The actual passage has “in Me” instead of the ellipses; that is, “believes in Me”; “believe in Me”; and “believe this” – adding the essential object in each case. You are not saved by “faith,” (i.e. by merely having faith); you are rather saved by the object of your faith – the Lord Jesus Christ.
Saving faith is a trusting commitment of one’s mind, actions, and destiny to the efficacy of Jesus Christ alone [not sincerity, feelings of assurance, works, or personal sacrifice]. Only Jesus has the power to produce the effect promised, not “faith” itself (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Is this splitting hairs? Yes, and it is necessary for understanding the next section.
Faith Is Only as Valid as Its Object
Are these faiths all equally valid?
- Allah is god because I have faith in him.
- Vishnu is god because I have faith in him.
- Brahman is god because I have faith in him.
- Jesus is god because I have faith in him.
Compared to Christians, believers in Allah, Vishnu, and Brahman may be just as sincere, do just as many good works, and personally sacrifice as much. But remember: “faith” does not save; good works do not save; sincerity does not save. Only the object can save!
The essential difference between the four “faiths” above is their object. How is Jesus distinguished from the others? In several ways but very important for faith is that only Jesus has been validated by eyewitness historical evidence. As the apostle John wrote, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…” (John 1:14). The other objects are invisible, intangible, and eternally elusive. How do they differ from an imaginary god or even from no god at all?
Furthermore, “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). To save, every religion must provide their answer to the universal sin and death problem of humanity. All but Christianity say each person much achieve holiness by their own efforts. The Psalmist says this is impossible: “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – that he should live on forever and not see decay” (49:7-9, NIV).
Jesus, without sin Himself (1 Peter 2:22) in actual history about 2,000 years ago and before many eyewitnesses, died a substitutionary death on the cross in Jerusalem for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and redeemed us from death (John 5:24; Romans 8:1-2) by the power of His resurrection (John 11:25-26). Instead of attempting to rid ourselves of sin and death by achievements of good works (a lost cause!), Christians are forgiven and gifted eternal life as an act of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Acts 26:18).
Christian faith can be shown to be valid because its object, Jesus Christ, can be demonstrated by evidence of every kind to be authentic and certain. Therefore, we do as the Scriptures encourage, “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12:2). This is the faith which will survive without extinction.
What Can I Anticipate from Christian Faith?
In the third and final part of this series on faith, I will explore its life changing dimensions. As the adage states, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Watch for your next issue of the Paraclete.