Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Choosing Faith?

Can a person choose to believe something without any evidence for it being true? In spiritual matters, I’ve thought that some sort of inner revelation from God was necessary to biblical faith, however I’m rethinking that this morning.

In the secular world, people are always choosing to believe things without any evidence for it. For instance, many believe their candidate will win the presidential nomination. The polls may or may not back them up, but they have chosen to put their trust in that candidate and declare him or her the winner, even though the winner is not yet known.

It is the same with sports teams. How many people thought that the New England Patriots would win the Super Bowl? They had a previous track record, so there was some evidence on which to base that choice, but the victory remained an unknown, at least until Sunday’s game was over.

How about faith in God? Can a person choose to believe in Him without any evidence He is the winner, without any track record upon which to base their faith? Interesting that Hebrews 11:1, 3 give this definition of faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. . . . 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.

Instead of physical evidence that God is real and true, faith seems to be the defining ingredient. If this definition were taken all by itself as the only way to describe faith, it is no wonder people jump to the conclusion that believing makes something so! But faith is more than just choosing to believe, at least I think it is.

My devotional reading today challenged me though. It says there are two ways of knowing God better. One is through those inner revelations that He gives to His people, a sort of insight that in itself is so strong that I simply “know” that whatever He shows me is true.

The other is the choice to believe His Word. Because He says it, without any special insight or deeper understanding, I can choose to believe it. So where Matthew 10:30 says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” I can believe that, even though God has never given me added insight into this passage or told me how many hairs I have on my head. He says He knows the number and I actually believe He does.

Why? Is faith that easy? He says it; I simply choose to believe it? I don’t think so. I think it starts somewhere. Hebrews 11:6 says it starts with simply believing that God exists, and that He is available to me. “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.

From a beginning like that, God rewards each seeker with greater revelations of Himself, insights that enable people like me to understand His character and will. Without the revelations, I would make up a God that I prefer, someone who is like my father (who was a loving, generous man), or like a genie in a bottle, or like a disinterested traffic cop, or any number of interpretations of God, who He is and what He does.

Those special inner revelations seem necessary. If faith were a simple choice based on reading what He says, why do people not choose? Who has not heard the great verse, John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Based on the largeness of that love and the largeness of that promise, it makes sense that everyone who hears it would want the love of God and eternal life, but millions say “No way.” They are not interested or willing to make that choice, or is it that they cannot do it without God’s help?

Maybe I’m thinking too much, but getting to know God is a two-way relationship. Certainly He says things and I ought to believe Him, but He also helps me by letting me in on His work and His will. He proves that He is reliable by hearing and answering my prayers. He opens my heart to things that I could not understand. He makes Himself known when I most need to hear from Him.

Without His revelations of Himself to me, I would have trouble believing what He says for one huge reason; it is not in my sinful nature to do so. Because of sin, I want to do my own thing, go my own way. Sinful beings do not choose to believe God or do what He says. We need another option. We need Him to do something else in our hearts so we can drop our pride and that selfishness that rejects His rule in our lives.

Romans 3 has an interesting passage about the depth of sin. In this section, it says, “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.

I sit here with my Bible every morning because Jesus Christ came to me and revealed Himself to me. When He did that, then I started to realize that His Word is true. As He continues to give me insight into Himself, my ability to “choose” faith increases, and I know that if He didn’t do that, I’d still be back in my pre-Christ condition where I read the Bible but could not choose to believe it simply because I didn’t have the foggiest idea what it said.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, but without the power of God to open my heart, deal with my sin, and give insight into who He is, I would not have any idea what He is saying to me or what He is like. Choices cannot be made in a vacuum.

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