I once watched the speaker at a post-evangelical megachurch deliver his Easter weekend message. Broadly, it wasn’t bad, centering on an appropriate Easter theme as he spoke about the concept of faith in Jesus. At the conclusion of the sermon, he climbed a ladder, perhaps twenty or more feet in the air, and, wearing a tethered harness, fell backward off the ladder, gently lowered back to the stage, as an illustration of faith. As I reflected on this rather dramatic illustration and the entire talk, I was somewhat troubled. I thought back to an experience earlier in my business career.
The company for which I worked for many years hired an outside firm to conduct a rather elaborate company-wide training, team building, and motivational series of events. Always a bit of a skeptic and cynic, I nevertheless played along, as I was a low-level manager at the time, and so had to participate without too much outward protest. One event was an off-site event for groups of employees, conducted over a few days for groups of several dozen people. At that event, I was introduced to the trust fall, sort of a highlight of the meetings. A trust fall is designed to be a team-building group exercise game in which a person deliberately falls backward, relying on a group of a few people standing behind to catch him or her. We were all encouraged to take a turn as the person falling. At the end of the day, I thought the whole thing a waste of likely six-figure money, and it didn’t motivate me or any of my peers or subordinates to trust each other. But again, I plead guilty to being a skeptical cynic.
Back to the megachurch. There was encouragement in the sermon to have faith in Jesus, but there was little of the concept of turning away from sin and embracing Christ as Savior and Lord. Likely the word “sin” wasn’t mentioned, or the necessity of Christ dying as the necessary sacrifice for the sin of sinners. In short, as I reflected on it, it almost came across as faith defined in some manner as “take a chance on Jesus.” A trust fall. Biblical faith – saving faith, and sustaining faith for life – is something profoundly different than that.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” When the Gospel of Christ, contained and recorded in the Bible, is internalized by the human mind and heart and applied by the Spirit, saving faith is the result. Paul further says we are saved by grace through faith which is “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9), a gift from God that is the result of embracing the message about Christ and His salvation. We hear the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the only solution to our alienation from God. The Word produces faith within us and regenerates us. We hear the message of the Gospel, we believe it, we acknowledge sin and turn to Christ as Savior and Lord, and the Spirit makes us a new creation in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).” How this gift of God mixes with the human response is a mystery that maybe cannot be totally understood, but salvation is far more than deciding to take the proverbial leap of faith.
Faith is the Spirit-given conviction that the Gospel is true, that the resurrection is a fact, and then acting on that conviction. Saving faith does not simply originate within a person. It doesn’t just sound good or inspiring or reassuring or affirming and so make us want to jump on the bandwagon or trust our teammates or join a club. It is the gift of Jesus Christ and of the Spirit. It is Christ who is both the source and object of faith.
Often, we hear people say that “their faith” has sustained them in a time of difficulty. I would be so bold as to suggest that such an attitude can in fact be a feel-good deception. In Luke 7:50, it is recorded of Jesus, “Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”” She did not here merely show faith in faith. She had come to Jesus. Beginning in verse 44, the account tells us, “Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” The object of her faith – was Jesus.
It is Jesus – the real Jesus Christ of Scripture – God the Son Who atoned for my sin on the cross and has conquered sin and death – that has saved me and will save all who will but end their rebellion against God and embrace Him as Savior and Lord. It is He – the object of true faith – Who saves and sustains.