OK, that’s going to unsettle some folks. I’m among them. But that’s what he said.
I was walking in the woods in the wee hours of the morning, and Papa whispered to me, “It’s not about faith.”
I stopped walking. Right there in the middle of the trail. And as he unfolded it, I understood a little more of what he was saying.
It’s not about faith. It’s about relationship.
Specifically, It’s not about what I call faith, what we call faith.
Faith is fundamentally an exercise of the spirit. It has nothing at all to do with what I believe. It’s certainly not about whether I believe or not. It’s about whom I believe in.
If I understand and agree with all the appropriate doctrines, that’s not an exercise of my spirit; it’s an exercise of my mind, part of my soul. Therefore, it’s not an act of my spirit, it’s an act of my soul.
It’s good to believe the right theology. It’s good to have a mind that is disciplined in the things of God, but it’s a different good thing than faith.
Instead of being about what I believe, faith is about whom I believe in. Again, it’s not intellectual agreement: “Yes, Jesus is the Son of God!” Heck, even the demons believe that, and they certainly don’t walk in faith. Faith is about whom I believe in, and it’s about whether I put my trust in him.
Whether I can pass the theology tests has nothing to do with whether I put my trust, my confidence in Jesus or not. In fact, people with no competent theology whatsoever can legitimately put their faith in Jesus.
I know a woman who had the gospel preached to her by a fellow drug addict: “Saved? Yeah, I know how you can get saved!” declared the druggie, and she went on to outline how to trust in Christ, and her partner prayed as instructed, received Christ, turned away from her sin and is still serving God decades later.
I know a man who was by his own admission so strung out on drugs that he could hardly talk. He was passed out on the beach next to his surfboard when some guys woke him up to tell him about Jesus. It was the first he’d ever heard the name, but he trusted, was healed and delivered, and has since led tens of thousands of others to faith, and has memorized most of the New Testament.
These two had no theology whatsoever. It was not possible for them to believe the right things. And until they had put their faith in the person of Christ, the rest of it would have been impossible, and it may have been a hindrance.
If I understand the right doctrine and agree with it, that’s not an act of my spirit; it’s an act of my mind, so it is not faith. In fact, it’s knowledge, and the Bible teaches us that “knowledge puffs up.” Even knowledge that is good and right and true puffs one up.
If I know what I should do or believe and I force myself to do that, this also is not an act of my spirit; it’s an act of my will, so it is also not faith.
If I feel emboldened and ready for any challenge, I may call that feeling faith, but it is not an act of my spirit; it’s an expression of my emotions, so it is not faith.
Correct knowledge is good. Right choices are good. Stirred emotions are good. In fact, I’m not sure it’s entirely possible to walk with Jesus over time without them. Each can serve as a tool to allow me to build relationship with God, or they can be used as a weapon against me, enticing me to trust in myself, in my soul, rather than in him.
But as far as the kind of faith that is described as “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” they’re pretty much useless.
But the goal isn’t that would have the perfect faith. It’s not about faith. It’s about the relationship I cultivate by faith between the Creator of the Universe and myself. Faith – even correct and right faith – is not the goal; it’s the means to the goal. The goal is him.
Paul talks about it in Philippians. He uses statements like “I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” He describes the things that he’s willing to lose “that I might know him.”
That’s the goal: He is my goal, our goal. That we would know him. That we would be known by him. That our fellowship would be with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ.
That’s what it’s about.