Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Real Faith

“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.” This is the victory cry that those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ rally behind as we face challenges to our faith. We know that salvation comes not by anything we do but as a result of belief in a risen Savior.  We know that we become the children of God, heirs of His kingdom which is exciting news, but then the harsh realities of life set in. We may be saved but all our problems don’t immediately go away. Material needs persist. Health may be an issue. Relationships continue to erode. Turning to Christ does not appear to have accomplished what we hope it would. Our faith is shaken.

There are preachers and teachers who are quick to present an answer to the quandary presented above. They have developed quite a complicated theology to explain why the believer does not receive all he expects in Christ. While the exact expression of this theology varies from preacher to preacher the simplified explanation boils down to this, “You don’t have what you desire (better health, better finances, better relationships, etc.) because you don’t have enough faith.” These teachers go on to define faith as a creative power within the individual to accomplish the individual’s desires through expressing these desires in spoken word. In other words, these teachers teach that if one says something sincere enough and long enough it will come into being. Many Christians who are weary of their trying circumstances have become attracted to these appealing individuals who give such wonderful promises.

The problem of why God’s people suffer has been one that has been debated throughout the ages. A prevailing theory throughout time immemorial has been that sin causes our sufferings. For example In John 9:2 those surrounding Jesus asked whether a blind man or his parents had sinned causing him to be blind.  Accordingly they blamed the suffering the man experienced through his physical infirmity on sin—his own or his parents’. While there is no doubt some suffering is the result of sin, because sin has consequences, not all suffering is because of sin. Note Jesus’ answer in John 9:3. Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.  According to Jesus, there is often a heavenly purpose for one’s suffering and that is so God’s work made be made manifest.

Consider what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17 & 18:  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;18While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. In verse 15 Paul expressed that all he was going through was for the glory of God. These verses quoted here continue the theme. Godly people do suffer, but our suffering is only temporary when we look from eternity’s point of view. I am reminded of a Godly woman who because of a stroke was physically confined to a wheelchair and was constantly told by numerous individuals that if she would have enough faith she could walk out of that wheelchair. Her answer usually astounded the well intentioned counselor: “I thank God for this wheelchair, because it was through this wheelchair, I came to know Him.” That was indeed this dear lady’s testimony. Through her disability she was brought to a Christian physical therapist who shared the Gospel and this lady who was a churchgoer realized she had yet to receive Christ, did so, and was saved. She then allowed God to get the glory in her life despite her physical circumstances.

“But,” the faith teachers maintain, “God doesn’t want anyone to suffer.” They quote Isaiah 53:5: But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. However, they fail to acknowledge that the word “healed” means “made whole”, and that this is in the context of man’s spiritual condition. Jesus died so we can be delivered from our sinful condition and be made whole in Him. Does this include physical healing? Yes, ultimately when as Paul said (1 Corinthians 15:54), “This corruptible shall put on incorruption…” Paul recognized that our present bodies are in a state of decay and only when Jesus returns will we be made truly whole.

Consider the message of 1 Peter 4:11: If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Note the words: “that God  in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ. We must consider whether God is glorified most by delivering from physical infirmities when the believer demands this or from giving the believer the strength to endure with joy the most difficult circumstances. The faith teacher proudly proclaims that it is a lack of faith when we pray, “If it be your will, God.” This writer asserts that it takes more faith to surrender the infirmity to God, placing it in His hands and saying, “Lord, I give this to You. I seek nothing but what gives You the greatest glory, Thy will be done.”

Does God deliver from physical infirmities when His people pray? This pastor has seen numerous examples of God doing just that, but I have also seen when God has received greater glory where God's servant continued to serve Him with joy despite dire circumstances.  Consider Paul’s experience. He had what he called a thorn in the flesh. Many have speculated as to what this could be. But note that he specifically mentioned it was in the flesh indicating it was physical, in other words, it affected Paul in his physical body and he prayed three times for it to be removed. Note his words as to God’s answer (1 Corinthians 12:9): And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Paul had learned the lesson of letting God be God in his (Paul's) life by giving his infirmities to God so that God would be glorified.

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