Note: This article is a companion to last Sunday’s article on Building Faith, and presents the reverse or opposite case of what can take place in a person’s life.
•••by Russell Young
The destruction of faith is not a topic that that brings joy to a person’s heart although it is an issue that needs consideration. How many people do we know that have walked away from their faith or have left the church? People come to faith because they have been persuaded of the gospel message. Something must have happened to convince them that faith has no place in their lives, that their persuasion was false. Of course there can be a lot of reasons for this. The parable of the sower reveals some. Faith, or commitment to faith, can be lost for lack of understanding (Mt 13:19), persecution and trials (Mt 13:21), and the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth (Mt 13:22).
The church can do something about these issues but in many instances has lost its way. If teaching presents that a believer was designated (elected) to enjoy God’s heavenly kingdom from before time, this parable lacks sense as does falling away. If the church teaches that a person’s initial commitment of faith brought about his eternal salvation (eternal security), again, the issue of falling away has no relevance. The problem is that false teaching is destroying the faith and the hope of many. Although this writing will not speak directly to either the issues of election or of eternal security, the broader issue of false teaching and its impact on faith will be addressed to some extent.
There are many promises that are presented in the gospel but they are not for all people in all circumstances. When a person mistakenly believes that they apply to him or her and they do not see their evidence in their lives, the whole gospel message becomes suspect.
Promises directed to committed saints and to the apostles do not apply to all who have confessed belief. A person who is seeking the “pleasures” of the world and who is interested in appeasing his own flesh should not expect the same blessings as the believer who has “died to self,” and may even be giving his or her life in difficult and meager circumstances. Revelation 21:7 reveals the promise of entrance into the New Jerusalem for those who “overcome”, not to all who have confessed belief. The apostles presented many promises in epistles to their readers. They did not mean to suggest that everyone who read their letters would enjoy the same hope. Their promises applied to those who are purposefully or committedly walking in the light. Yet, the need for the righteous living that is in accordance with the will of God is seldom mentioned or at least with any conviction. Even the Lord addressed his disciples by using the all inclusive pronoun “you” and he was not including Judas in many of these instances.
Passages such as John 16:23 present real challenges to faith for many people. “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (NIV) The immature and uninformed believer may accept that he or she will have any request answered. When it is not, the truth of God’s Word will be questioned. How many times have you heard, “I tried Christ but it did not work”? The key to the above passage rests in the phrase “in my name.” That is, if you ask something in the manner and for the purpose that Christ would have asked, it will be answered. Christ came to do his Father’s will, to build his kingdom.
When something is done “in the name of Christ,” it is really being presented as being offered according to the character or authority of Christ. Christ was really saying that if you make a request in his name, you are making it as if it was coming from him and with his authority. Those whose motivations are the same as the Lord’s will have their prayers answered. Those who do not appreciate the character and mission of Christ cannot speak in His name; to offer a petition that would be contrary to His moral make-up or ministry purpose would besmirch his holy name.
To encourage his readers Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7, NIV) Accordingly, Paul’s promise was that a person’s heart will be “guarded.” Although any petition might be made, the petitioner must accept at the same time that Christ is going to guard his or her heart and so the request may not be answered if it would prevent the petitioner’s development or taint his or her heart. It is probably fair to accept that prayers that do not hinder the proper development of a person’s heart according to Christ’s goal or workmanship (Ep 2:10) will be answered.
The problem is that much of current teaching is leaving out the need of a transformed heart and the manner in which that is accomplished. Instead doctrines that deal with pre-creation election and eternal security have left no purpose for the Spirit’s ministry. Paul wrote, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us -not for our earthly enjoyment, but in order to develop the product or heart through God’s working) with groans that words cannot express. And he [God] who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:26-27) God’s purpose is to create a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
The church has become weak and ineffectual concerning its mission because the ministry of Christ has been lost. Some have gathered hope and are either consciously or unconsciously being led by the Spirit. However, current ministry teaching is most amenable to those who in their affluence have few worries in life and are not subject to great persecution and trials. What needs to be given to the church is the truthful establishment of a person’s hope of glory and the believer’s cost or faith commitment in accomplishing it apart from what he or she considers their due blessings in this life. Faith is hard to build but easy to destroy. Commitment brings discomfort and even pain.