December 14, 2017

Violent Faith

We began our look at the subject of faith by asking a simple question: What if Jesus really meant it when he told his disciples things like, “Ask whatever you will in my name and it will be done for you.” What if he did not lay any other rules or requirements on them than this? And if so, does he mean it for us still today?

I believe that not only does he mean it still, he commands us still to ask and believe and receive. If we do not have faith, we cannot please God. Read Hebrews chapter eleven. Yes, we have faith when we believe God for the forgiveness of our sins, for our entrance into eternity with God himself. But we must continue to exercise faith daily in order to please him. We must believe, according to Hebrews, that He Is. We must believe that He Is when only He Is can make a difference. We are asked at times to believe for something that is, frankly, impossible. We have to trust God to do things, at times, that are beyond the natural–thus, supernatural. We have to believe He Is in times when only He Is can save the day.

And it is in times like this when we believe boldly that the kingdom of God is taken by force.

A few weeks ago I asked for help in deciphering Matthew 11:12: From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force (NASB). We got many really good insights into the context and meaning of this verse. But one comment by Kelly really stood out to me.

The verse suggests something that is hinted at throughout scripture: God esteems the bold. There’s confusion in our modern minds between humility and timidity; between assertive and self-willed. I think Christ was heralding an unnamed virtue: a combination of courage and intention.

Where is this kingdom Jesus spoke about so often, this kingdom that was being attacked by violence? It is not a kingdom we can see without our eyes, take pictures of for National Geographic. No, Jesus said, it is in a secret place, a place you don’t get to by car or train or plane.

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17: 20,21 NIV).

The kingdom is within. Within you and within me. That’s where the violence takes place. It is us doing the violence within ourselves. We are the violent men taking it by force, taking from ourselves. And it takes the combination of courage and intention spoken of by Kelly. If faith is boldness, and if faith pleases God, then Kelly is right: God does esteem the bold. When we have bold faith, believing God for the impossible, we are attacking the part of us that is blocking the entrance to the kingdom of God that is within us. Just what is blocking the door?

1. Common sense. Common sense tells us that the impossible just doesn’t happen. Our common sense says that we have to understand something before we believe it. We want to be able to explain something fully before we grab hold of it to make it a part of our lives.

Martin Luther had some choice words when it came to common sense getting in the way of faith.

Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God … Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.

2. Fear. We fear what we don’t understand, and if faith is believing in things we don’t understand, then fear will certainly be present when we exercise faith. Not all fear is bad. The fear of God brings wisdom. Fearing the power of an oncoming truck keeps us from playing in the highway. But fear of the unknown can keep us from believing what God wants us to believe. It seems like a natural, good thing. It keeps us from tumbling off the edge of the cliff into the abyss. But it’s when God is waiting for us to take that leap into the abyss that fear becomes an enemy to God.

“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. And lo, no one was there.”

3. Weakness. “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you,
Then how can you contend with horses?” Most of us are not very strong when it comes to faith. We get stronger through exercise, which takes discipline. Believing God does not always come easily. But once you have believed him for something and then received it, the next time is a little easier. So start small. Try to keep up with the footmen for now. Don’t think you have to outrace a horse your very first time on the track.

4. Lack of persistence. I heard a message while I was in England recently from a pastor who knows something about faith. Doug Williams preached on “Prayers That Release Promise.” Normally a sermon title like that would send me running—it smacks of all the weirdness I associate with messages on faith. But this brother was spot on in everything he said. And one thing still sticks with me: “It’s not that people don’t have enough faith,” he said. “It’s that we don’t have enough fight. God has promised something to you, but will you hold on long enough? Will you contend long enough?” That’s the question, isn’t it?

Susan Williams Smith has a book I highly recommend called Crazy Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives. It is a simple—but not simplistic—book on living in radical, life-changing faith. I could quote from her book all day long. Here is what she says about not giving up.

We hear stories from the Bible and assume that faith “just comes” when in fact we have to work at beating back our human tendency to give up and at learning how to believe completely in the most abject of times.

Believing in the most abject of times takes faith that, honestly, none of us possess. This is when the mercy and grace of our loving Father moves in. He gives us in times when we cannot believe on our own the gift of faith. What does this gift of faith look like? It is the supernatural—beyond the natural—ability to believe for what seems impossible. It is having the assurance that your prayer is answered before it is answered. Jesus said to his followers, I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours (Mark 11:24 NLT). If we “believe we have received it” implies we haven’t received anything yet, but we still believe. If you can do this, you most likely are operating in the gift of faith. And this is a gift with an expiration date. Once you do see what you have been trusting God for, you cease to need faith. Faith comes first, then sight. Faith, then understanding. The gift of faith comes and goes. But it is always there when we need to believe.

Such faith is a violent faith. It tears down the strongholds that are keeping us from the kingdom to which we are called. Your believing for a loved one’s healing is what draws you into that kingdom. Your trust in God to provide for you when you don’t have two nickels to rub together will bring you into the kingdom of God. The more impossible the mountain in front of you, the farther you will step into the kingdom.

Boldness. Violence. Persistence. These are all part of faith. And without these things, we can’t please God. In our next in this series, we will look at some of the ways our churches try to prevent us from having faith.

Comments

  1. We need to be careful with the concept of bold, violent faith. I fear these concepts have become intertwined with American capitalistic ideals, and not always reflect historical christianity. For much of history, being a christian was more about surviving, not “doing great things”. Evangelical christianity in United States has used this concept of bold faith to go into debt and build large sprawling megachurches. Is this faith, or is it the result of a capitalistic system willing to lend anyone money and followers willing to give anyone money.

    My faith consists of praying each day for God’s grace to survive another day in the vocation and family life he has put me in.

  2. “Martin Luther had some choice words when it came to common sense getting in the way of faith. ‘Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has’.”

    Well, who are you going to believe? Martin Luther or C. S. Lewis?

    Or for that matter, Galileo Galilei, who said: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

    Whatever the answer is, I don’t believe that despising reason is part of it.

    • In this case, Luther.

      • I’d like to see them fight it out.

        Seriously, though, you can have plenty of respect for Luther (as for Lewis) without feeling obliged to accept that his every word is truth; Luther’s opinions on Jews ought to be enough to make us see that. On this occasion I’m giving Galileo the casting vote.

    • I’m not sure what Martin Luther’s point was, but I’m thinking Jeff was not encouraging us to “despise reason.”

      The “reason” that Jeff is speaking of being a whore is not that which tells us facts about the world and science and philosophy and God and everything in between.

      It is the “reason” that tells us not to believe that God will take care of us. It is the “reason” that tells us it is ridiculous to follow Christ in our present situation. It is the “reason” that tells us that faith will simply get in the way of living our lives.

      • Correct. Go to the head of the class.

        • Or desire to go to the back of the class, since the last shall be first. Come to think of it, this paradoxical Jesus logic does indeed require faith. I will be poor in the things of the world, so I might be rich in the Kingdom. I will die so that I may live. Etc.

    • I tend to think the quote from Luther was much stronger than the great reformer intended. He seemed to deliberately overstate his case to make his point. This was not out of character for him, of course.

  3. I’m not sure how to put this.

    When I read a post like this, I wonder how it can be on Internetmonk because it goes in a completely different direction than most of the posts that Michael Spencer wrote.

    He frequently lamented the church’s undermining of reason and common sense.

    I miss Michael’s voice.

    This essay, and several like it, are not only not close to his voice, but seem to be coming from a completely different direction.

    • I disagree. It is possible to celebrate “reason” while still recognizing its limits, and it is possible to commend “common sense” while still pointing out that oft we must transcend it.

    • It is possible to make an idol of reason, just like it’s possible to make an idol of mystery. Something becomes an idol when it stands in the way of Christ. So I guess there are some instances as Christians in which we are forced listen to Christ despite reason, and other times when reason can be a tool that we can use.

      Reason dictates that men do not rise from the dead, but in the case of Christ and our hope in Him, reason is wrong.

    • Reason and common sense are essential in our lives.

      But the truth is, you cannot approach faith through reason. Faith is not reasonable in the way we normally think about reason.

  4. C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, book #1 chapters 4&5″ ,What lies behind the Law,” and “we Have Cause to be Uneasy” He reasoins out the moral law and a God behind it, but we still have to have faith to accept Jesus as our redeemer.He cl;aims you can’t prove God by science. It takes both reason and faith to be a Christian.

  5. David Cornwell says:

    I think there must be a lively tension between faith and reason. Abandon reason and you may become a senseless fanatic (I’ve seen this close at close hand); abandon faith and you become a hardened skeptic.

  6. This goes back to the previous discussion about what it means to be Christian, but also about faith and reason.

    I believe that salvation is 100% God’s doing. Then it is for us to respond by moving away from self-obsessions toward a Christ-centered life. This is reflected in all our relationships. It is living the physical life and the spiritual life in harmony.

    Reason and common sense are absolutely essential in the physical life. But to paraphrase Jeff above: if reason knocks on the door, faith will answer, but reason won’t see it. Reason won’t even realize the door is open.

    As much as we need reason and common sense in our lives, reason can be a barrier to faith. Reason says there is nothing other than the physical world.

    When this reason-wall blocks faith, I think only God can knock it down. And that is my moving-mountains prayer for certain people in my life.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Right. And boldness and persistence are hard work in prayer. We dare not give up too soon. This is an awfully intriguing subject.

  7. My original point is only slightly related to the tension between reason and faith.

    My actual question is why this website states “continuing the legacy of Michael Spencer” while simultaneously posting a bunch of stuff that Michael Spencer would never endorse and is directly opposed to what he believed and what he expressed about his beliefs and faith.

    It doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Liza,

      I never talked with Michael about crazy, radical faith. Most of our discussions were about 1) grace, 2) his book, and 3) the Reds, not necessarily in the that order. But I do know events that took place in Michael’s life and in the life of his family, students and friends where he had to trust God for things that made no sense. I know how he struggled with these situations. How sometimes he could trust God easier than at other times. To say that what I have written is stuff that Michael “would never endorse and is directly opposed to what he believed” presupposes that you knew Michael personally. Did you? I did. Would he have worded these essays differently than I? Of course he would. He was Michael, I’m Jeff. Chaplain Mike would write differently. So would Lisa or Damaris. They would all write from their experience and with their individual style. (And they would all–ALL–do it better than I.)

      God is pleased by faith. We see it in Abraham. We see it with Paul. We see it in between. What I am trying to do is to encourage those who are believing for the impossible to keep believing. To continue to hold fast to the notion that God Is, and that He Is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.

      I can only assume that at this time you are not having to believe for anything wild or crazy or impossible. But when you do need to, you might be thankful for those who will come alongside of you and encourage you. And when your reason and logic let you down–which they will–you will be thankful that you can still trust our illogical and unreasonable God.

      I know I am.

      • “And when your reason and logic let you down–which they will–you will be thankful that you can still trust our illogical and unreasonable God..”

        Perfect, Jeff! I want to go with the unreasonable God every time. Jesus was ALWAYS trying to get the people to understand that God was totally different than they thought. The parable about paying the guy who worked hard all day the same as the guy who only worked a couple hours was one way he was showing them that God is not like them. I think many of us hear that parable and think, “Hey, I wouldn’t like it either if I was the one who worked hard all day!” Jesus was trying to shake up people’s hard-headed, hard-hearted misunderstandings about God. But right until he died, even many of his own disciples didn’t really get it.

    • @liza: not (formally) invited, but I’m jumping in;

      from a poster above
      It is the “reason” that tells us not to believe that God will take care of us…. or another way of saying this is ‘you’d better have a well thought out plan B, because what seems to be GOD’s plan is NUTS…’ hedge your bets, be a wise steward, yadayadayada….

      If you’ve read much of JeffD’s stuff, you can be sure this is not hyper-charismania, not ‘it flies in the face of all GOD has said before, but we’ve prayed and that settles it….” but there is ample room for ‘this goes against all normalcy” within the NT: Gideon reducing the army, Jesus telling the disciples to give away, or not carry, their extra tunic, telling his disciples, “YOU feed them….” and on and on. This is not anti-rational, it is ‘supra-rational’. It’s gather up your crazy faith, your chutzpah, and get bold.

      Hope this helps.
      I miss Michael, but thank GOD daily that he multiplied before leaving;
      GregR

      • This is all probably a late *mourning* thing for me. It isn’t that I didn’t understand the post. I did. It simply isn’t the voice I used to hear and that I think many people miss. I know my comments may come off as mean or critical, and I suppose they are critical.

        Recently, reading posts that lean toward YEC notions, or spinning in directions away from what I think of as the Internetmonk’s voice, I can’t help but think that the blogging community lost a huge asset that will never quite be replaced.

        When I read *dispatches from the post evangelical wilderness* it doesn’t line up with what I read here. These seem like dispatches from the typical evangelical habitat. That doesn’t mean that I think the writers, posts, or conversations are awful, but that I see them as *not Michael Spencer’s written voice*.

        I never knew Michael Spencer in person, but I read his posts every day for years.

        And I miss those posts and that voice.

        That is all.

        • Liza, we appreciate you being here. That is what community is for. And, no, none of us are Michael Spencer. And more to the point, none of us are trying to be. If I and the iMonk writers were to sit down with Michael right now (and it would have to be with a TV tuned to the baseball playoffs), I’m sure that we would find a lot that we would not agree on. But–and of this I’m sure–we would find a lot more that we would agree on.

          Not sure what posts you have read here with YEC leanings. None of us that I know of are Young Earthers. Chaplain Mike recently went through a series he called Creation Wars. I think if you revisit that you will find where most of us land on that topic.

          Again, thanks for being here. And yes, we are all still mourning the loss of Michael…

          • I am not here to defend Liza. I just have to say while I was reading this post, I had the thought that this is much like the messages I hear from Joel Osteen each Sunday morning. He constantly encourages us to have this kind of faith in a God who only wants the best for His creation. The kind of faith mere men can’t understand. I have read many, many nasty things said about Mr. Osteen on these pages, and it always irritates the hell out of me. It seems with this post you may have talked out of both sides of a face, or at the very least been found to be disingenuous in your former insults of this man of God. Maybe that’s what Liza is picking up on.

  8. Meditating on this post has made me realize that many times I don’t think I need more faith because I am avoiding doing–or even thinking about doing–the things that I am afraid to do.

    I see the utility of identifying my fears and doing something externally that would require both courage and faith.

    I don’t see the utility, though, in thinking about the kingdom being inside of me and taking it by force. What am I missing?

  9. Thanks, Jeff. This was both instructional and inspriational.

  10. Buford Hollis says:

    Aside from the issue of reason (or fear, which I have trouble regarding as a vice), the reason prayer does not actually work might be our own misapplied desires which put us out of “sync” with God.

    • But isn’t it possible for anything to become a vice if it leads us down the wrong path?

      Reason is essential, but when it becomes a barrier to faith perhaps it is being misused. Or overused.

      • Buford Hollis says:

        Aristotle thought so. Too much fear makes us cowards. Too little, and we become reckless / foolhardy. The trick lies in finding that “Golden Mean.”

        What would extreme reasonable-ness be like? Mr. Spock? (But his problem is a deficiency of emotion, not a surfeit of reason.) Excess of faith, on the other hand, is a familiar problem.

        • Back when I first felt God’s pull, I did not believe I was capable of faith. Faith in a God I could not see or touch did not seem rational. I struggled with it, but could not reason my way into faith. My stubborn will refused to comprehend what it could not explain.

          It’s like running cross country wearing your favorite running shoes. Then you reach a river. To swim the river it makes sense to take off the running shoes. Of course this doesn’t mean you discard the shoes. But they won’t help you when diving into this new environment.

  11. Brother Bartimaeus says:

    Brother Jeff, I agree with much that you have written here, boldness and persistence are some of the key traits to a kingdom life.  However, violence is not.  You yourself write, “It is us doing the violence within ourselves. We are the violent men taking it by force, taking from ourselves.”  How is that positive trait?  In this age of terror, I think there is enough “violent faith” in this world, and none of it is admirable.

    Also of concern, “we must continue to exercise faith daily in order to please him.” Isn’t that some type of works doctrine? Our faith should be a result of our recognition of everything God has already given, not out of any expectation, even pleasing God.

    I’m also not sure what to make of, “Once you do see what you have been trusting God for, you cease to need faith. Faith comes first, then sight. Faith, then understanding. The gift of faith comes and goes. But it is always there when we need to believe.” I do see what I’ve been trusting God for, which is everything from the sun in the morning, to the air I breathe, to a loving family. Why would I cease to have faith when I see that? Also, faith isn’t a gift, it’s an orientation.

    Peace

  12. Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon on the Matthew 11:12 passage that really turned my world upside down about 4 years ago…he called it “Holy Violence”.

    http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0252.htm