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Evangelical Culture

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Bible reading won’t build your faith

March 10, 2017

 

 

 

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
– Matthew 7:24-27

 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
– James 2:14-17

 

Growing up in the evangelical culture there was a constant emphasis on Bible reading, memorization, and study. I’m grateful for the countless hours that I was taught to learn from God’s word, delving into the nuances of sentences and stepping back to see the grandeur of the over-arching storyline. I did (do!) annual Bible read-throughs, 90-day Bible read-throughs (that was intense), and hundreds of studies through various books of scripture.

Evangelicalism has done an excellent job training its adherents that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. According to a recent poll 95% of evangelicals affirm that truth. When I ask young adults who have grown up in evangelical churches what they can do to grow spiritually the answer is invariably some variation of “Read the Bible more.” For many within evangelicalism Bible reading is the path to holiness and increased faith. But there’s a problem with that. Reading the Bible doesn’t build your faith, just like stacking wood doesn’t start a fire. In fact, just reading the Bible (or hearing God’s word in any form) is the equivalent of building a house on quicksand. Jesus himself says so.

How Faith Grows

Jesus says that anyone who hears his words and does them builds their house on a solid foundation. It’s not the hearing that saves – it’s the obeying and acting according to what you’ve heard that is faith. The Apostle James is even more explicit in his Epistle, saying that without action faith is dead (James 2:17).

We need to move away from the idea that reading the Bible more is the primary means of spiritual growth. If it was wouldn’t we have significantly more examples in Jesus’ ministry of him and his disciples reading and discussing the Torah together? Certainly he and the Apostles after him taught people from the scriptures deeply, but I would argue that it was through obedience to the Word that growth came.

Peter walked on the water not because he heard Jesus’ command to “Come,” but because he stepped out of the boat. To reference James again,

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
– James 2:21-25

In each case the individual heard God’s word and obeyed. They acted, and it was in the action that their faith was established.

Gather Fuel

What Bible reading and prayer do is give us the fuel for putting faith into action. As Paul wrote in Romans, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” But, as we’ve already noted, that faith doesn’t become a reality if it isn’t acted out. The Gospel of God starts a fire in our soul and the Word is fuel that stokes that fire, but to gather wood and never place it in the fire is pointless.

There are too many long-time believers sitting in spiritual houses stacked to the roof with well organized, neatly split firewood and a barely flickering flame. Faith looks like taking some of that firewood and throwing it in the fire.

If you’re lacking fuel, spend time in the word and prayer. Make this a daily, frequent practice. Abide in the word and let it abide in you. But you must not stop there. Cords of firewood do no good to anyone in this frigid world of sin and brokenness if they are never lit. Let’s start putting fuel on the flame by obeying Jesus’ commands and following the Spirit’s lead.

Stoke the Fire

Two practical ways you can do this:

  1. Whenever you read a section of scripture, finish by asking God “What do you want me to do in response to this?” Write down what the Spirit prompts you to do and do it.
  2. Don’t move on from a section of Scripture until it’s become a part of your life and you can truly say it’s become a part of how you live, not just another thing you know.

We all want heart change – we want our passions and lives to align with what our Lord calls us to have. Reading words from the page of a book, even if it is inspired by God, is not the way for that to happen. Faith won’t grow simply by reading a book. Additional knowledge can’t create definitive change in the human heart. The only way that happens is if our faith is put into action. Let’s put God’s word to the test. Let’s be people who believe him and act accordingly. As we do so the flame of our faith will grow in ways that those around us won’t be able to ignore.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare

Weird Stuff God Does

July 23, 2015

1. You’re driving your way to church, going about 30 miles an hour and singing along with the latest Hillsong album. A movement to your left catches your eye. You glance over and are amazed to see your pastor running next to the car, looking as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. He smiles, waves, and surges ahead of you. A few minutes later you pull into the church parking lot, walk in, and your pastor greets you, telling you a story about how his car had broken down and God had given him supernatural power to run the 15 miles to the church at an amazing speed. He doesn’t look like he even sweated at all.

Do you believe him? Do you scoff? Did you actually see him running?

 

2. Your small group gets a letter from the pastor of the church you attend. He’s been on a six month sabbatical and promised to write if he felt like God had anything that he should communicate. He writes, saying he’s had a vision of heaven and that Jesus told him to write it down. Your group reads the letter and discovers a wild mix of bug-monsters, dragons, plagues, very specific naming of your (and other) small group’s sins, and detailed descriptions of what heaven will look like. There’s even seems to be specific numbers for how many people will get into that heaven.

Do you take the letter seriously? Does your group discuss it and write it off as a prank?

 

3. You and a few co-workers are biking like you usually do on nice Saturdays when all of a sudden a bright light shines on you, totally freaking you out and surprising you so much that you fall off your bike. You hear a voice, telling you to go to a specific house in the next city over and wait for instructions. None of the people with you hear it, but they see the light.

Do you respond by obeying? Do you ignore the whole situation?

 

4. A friend tells you about how he was in Minneapolis and stopped to talk to a guy who was reading his Bible and looking puzzled. Through their conversation, the guy became a believer and was baptized right there in a pond in the park since he was too excited to wait. Your friend says that as soon as he finished baptizing the guy, God teleported him back to his home in Fargo.

Do you believe him and rejoice in the power of God? Do you question and doubt?

 

 

How would you react if one of these things happened to you? Would you believe it was from God, or would you reason it away to be imagination or something more sinister?

We’ve got a problem in the evangelical culture, and it’s keeping us from encountering God in ways that could radically expand the reach of the Gospel in our world. We’ve started assuming that if something is weird or makes us feel uncomfortable, it can’t be from God. The church has set implicit limits on what is acceptable and what is not.

Each of the events listed above are modernized version of things that happened by the command and power of God. Elijah outran the king’s chariot (King 18:46), John wrote the book of Revelation to the small house churches on the inspiration of visions he had, Paul was converted after seeing a bright light and hearing a voice (Acts 9), Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch and was transported by the Spirit to a nearby town (Acts 8:26-40).

My question is this; Do we have a framework that can encompass a God who sometimes does – and even calls us to do – things that are weird? God isn’t limited by our perspectives. He’s not constrained to function in ways that make sense to us. In fact, judging by Scripture’s records, God tends to do things in very weird ways just so that people realize there’s something beyond the natural at work.

Don’t limit God. Don’t say it’s not God just because it’s weird. Evaluate, prayerfully consider, and be wise, yes. But don’t rule something out just because it doesn’t fit what you think of as normal Christianity. You might be surprised at the glorious things you encounter when you open yourself up to some of the weird stuff God does.