Faith is an entirely meaningless word in much of American Christianity. It should be brimming at the edges with all of the context of the Old and New Covenants. It should be vibrant and beating with a living expression of who we are in Christ. It instead, however, takes on the texture of dry Thanksgiving turkey (with no gravy rescue in sight) when it is used frequently and improperly.
In American Evangelicalism this pillar of our doctrine has become a word that goes on plaques that say things like “Food, Faith, Family”. It makes faith a meaningless Thomas Kinkade painting, a fluffy-feel-good word, or a Precious Moments card.
Then there are sayings thrown about on the Hallmark Channel like “have faith” in the context of simple sentimentalism. This usage screams its own lack of Christ crucified to a deaf and stiff-necked people; but for those who have ears to hear, let him hear.
Now, before I become an insensitive bully, know that there are times when this is not to be condemned. I can name families who believe Christ is their substitute and live in light of that truth while hanging those plaques and using those phrases. I’m not condemning them in and of themselves. I just wonder sometimes how real the cross is to someone when I can ask them and their children, “What does faith mean? What is it?” and the majority of the answers I get are great for Hallmark, but don’t communicate any real meaning.
The truth is, faith is a weighty word. Allow me to give an analogy to help with this.
Imagine you are swimming in a storm, and you’re drowning. You have a rope attached to your waist, and you must attach it to something or you will sink and die. This rope is your faith. Your faith must be IN something, or it is useless. You can tie your rope to many things close to you: to your bank account (but money won’t last, so that will sink and take you down with it), to your relationships (but your spouse and family make bad saviors, so they’ll sink too), to your children (if my kids turn out ok, then God will be pleased with me and save me).
The trickiest thing to do is to tie the rope to the rope. This is called having faith in your faith. “Because I ‘had faith’ and prayed that prayer [or signed that card, or walked that isle], I can believe that God will count me as righteous.” This is so deceptive! What we did or do does not save us.
The deadliest thing to do is to tie the rope to your own ankle and put your faith in your ability to swim in the midst of the storm. “Because I go to church, read my Bible, pray, and am generally a good person, God will save me and count me as righteous. He grades on a curve, right?” If this is what you are tying your rope to, it’s pretty obvious you don’t read more of your Bible than what’s on Facebook posts and coffee mugs.
The only thing that is not going to sink in this storm-the only thing that will save you from death- is the rock of our salvation: the rock of the Cross.
We are extremely sinful, and God is extremely Holy. “YHWH descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the YHWH. YHWH passed before him and proclaimed, ‘YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…‘”
Do you see that? God seemingly says two contradictory statements. Steadfast love and mercy, forgiving sin, and will not let the guilty go unpunished. This only makes sense at the cross. There, God destroys sin with all of the wrath that it deserves, but does so, not upon the guilty party, but in the innocent, His son, who willingly bore all of our sin in His body until He was crushed to death. He was not killed by nails or thorns, but it pleased the father to crush Him instead. He then came back to life again three days later, showing that the work was accepted.
There is a great exchange made here: Christ gets our suffering and death, while we get His sonship and righteousness. Tie your faith to this. That the righteousness that is required of you, you have not earned, but have rather spurned the kindness of God and have failed countless times. Instead, your only hope for righteousness is to forsake your own prayers, feelings, doings, and cling to the cross by saying, “I trust that Christ’s work on the cross is what saves me, not my works!”
When we say we have faith, we’re saying we are trusting in what Jesus has accomplished by becoming our substitute, not what we have done for acceptance and joy in God.
Have faith in the only one who can save.