Tag Archives: belief

Don’t Fool Yourself

How can you tell if a person is really a Christian?  Jesus said there would plenty of fakes.  There is an easy, reliable test.  But before I tell you what the test is, let me warn you in advance: there is one, big limitation to know about before you apply this test.  Read about the test first and then I’ll tell you about the fine print:

” What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

If a person really follows Jesus, you will see it in his or her actions.  What you do shows what you really believe.  You can say you believe but, unless you put those beliefs into action, your belief is not real.  Every time you step off the jetway, across that small space onto your flight, you show that you believe the airplane will keep you safe.  So, if you want to know if someone is truly a believer in Jesus, you can tell by what he or she does.

BUT, BUT, BUT!!!   (Here’s the big caveat)  There is a limitation to how this test can be applied.  It only works accurately on one person: yourself!  Jesus taught us to be cautious about fakes and that we could spot them by their actions.  But He also taught us not to mentally condemn others or write them off.  That is God’s job.  The only person whose faith you can really test is little old you.

Jesus’ commands and teachings run against the grain of our natural tendencies.  But if you believe He was telling the truth, you risk doing unnatural things.  Like being generous to someone in need.  What you do shows what you believe.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Hungry and Thirsty No More

When you pass a wreck, why do you look?  Why do people gather around a fight?  Why do we think the way we do?  Perhaps you have had times when your inability to think about or do the things you know are right has led you to despair.  Perhaps you have felt as though you were drowning in your own wickedness.  If so, Jesus understands and has good news:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  (Matthew 5:6)

Remember the scene in “Lawrence of Arabia” when they open the canteen and there’s barely a drop left?  Middle of the desert, in the blazing heat?  That’s thirsty.  Actually, two days later is thirsty, but you get the idea.  What’s hungry?  No, strike that.  What is it to hunger?   That’s worse than being hungry.   

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is the end result of knowing your spiritual poverty and mourning about it, knowing you cannot fix it.  Jesus says that’s the kind of person the Kingdom of Heaven is for.  That’s the kind of person who is ready to listen and ready to cooperate in an attempt to be healed.  That’s the kind of person who feels morally starved and parched.

Jesus said those who would trust Him, would cross from death to life, because He would give His Holy Spirit to live in their dead souls.  They would experience a “newness of life” as they are fully reconciled to God.  In this teaching He says those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be filled.  He used the word for eating your fill, the word they used to talk about fattening cattle.  Imagine being that full of His Spirit, that full of righteousness.

That’s the promise.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.  (John 6:35)

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  (John 7:37-38)


The Difference Between Belief and Belief

John writes:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.  (1 John 5:1)

But is that really true?   Everyone who believes Jesus is the Christ is born again?  It is true, if you understand what John means by belief.  There is belief, and then there is belief.

You discover you have a cancerous tumor and go looking for a surgeon.  Turns out your neighbor’s brother is a surgeon.  Do you believe it?  Sure.  But do you decide to lie down on the operating table, undergo full anesthesia and let your neighbor’s brother open you up and cut a few things out?   Not necessarily.  But if you do, then you believe in your neighbor’s brother in a way similar to what John means by believing Jesus is the Christ.

Real belief shows.  It changes a person’s outlook and behavior, so that, instead of following the group-think of the world, he or she gets in step with God’s design and commands.  John calls that “overcoming the world,” and that is a good description of what it feels like to resist the pull of what most people do and choose to do what seems foolish by their standards.

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  (1 John 5:2-5)

Which all fits, which all makes sense – provided you believe.

Eating Jesus…

When Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life (See, “Free Food, Free Drink”), He took it a step further.  He said you have to eat Him!

 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  (John 6:53-54)

Yuck!  Sounds disgusting,   Did Jesus really suggest He would be the main course at the cannibal feast?   We can figure out what He really meant by comparing what Jesus said just a bit before those shocking words.  This quote is almost the same as the second sentence above, except for the words, “looks to and believe.”

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)

See that?  “Eat my flesh…” replaces “looks to and believes…”   Therefore, we know that Jesus used “eat my flesh” as a vivid metaphor for believing

When you think about it, so do we.  We say “I swallowed what he told me,” to mean that we believed what he said.   When you swallow something you come to a personal moment of decision and surrender.  It is an act of faith.  You believe it will be better if you move something from outside you to inside, where it will become absorbed into your life.  That’s what Jesus meant:

 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood (i.e. whoever believes and takes Me in) remains (makes his home) in me, and I (make My home) in him.” (John 6:56 – with my added explanations.  

The word “remains” is a Greek word for living permanently, making ones home in, or abiding.)  When Jesus makes His home in you, His life comes to life within you.  Because His life is eternal, you have (present tense) eternal life.  His, eternal life, living in you by means of the Holy Spirit, is the consequence of your personal, voluntary, decision of faith to “swallow” Jesus!

Chew on that!  

Dead Man Walking

God says, in Isaiah 57:15, He will live with a person to revive him, to bring him or her back to life (see: “In a Nutshell”).  We asked, in what sense are we dead?  Why do we need to be revived (see: “The ‘Why?’ Question”)?   The answer has to do with the makeup of a human being, and how that makeup became damaged.

Humans are like animals in that we both have bodies and souls.  Our bodies are all the physical stuff we use to get around on the planet, our hardware.  Our souls are the software that we use to run the hardware, our minds, emotions and will.  Our minds and emotions think, “Man, I’m craving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!”  And then our will decides to make one and eat it.  Our souls (mind, emotion and will) tell our bodies (hands, arms, legs, teeth, etc.) what to do.  Humans and animals alike have hardware and software, bodies and souls.

But humans were designed by God with the capacity to be connected to Him by His Spirit.  Just as our bodies are designed to be operated by our souls, our souls are designed to be informed by His Spirit.  To use the previous example, His Spirit says, “It would be cool to go make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and share it with that hungry guy over there.”  The soul “hears” that and then controls the body to do that.  Getting hungry?  Go ahead and get a sandwich; I’ll wait…

So then, an animal has two parts: hardware and software – body and soul; humans have three parts: hardware, software and signal – body, soul and spirit.  We humans compare to animals in the same way cell phones compare to calculators.  Cell phones and calculators both have hardware, run by software.  They both do interesting things, using only hardware and software.  But cell phones also receive information from an invisible signal, process that signal, “inform” the software to make phone calls and use the internet.  When cell phones can’t receive that cell signal, we say they are dead.

Human beings are designed to be in steady contact with God by His Spirit, His invisible “cell signal.”  But our ability to receive that signal is broken.  In that sense, we are dead, spiritually dead.  Our souls, our software, senses that something is missing, something is not working right; which is why we spend so much of our energy trying to fix it.  Anywhere you go on the planet, religions tend to dominate what people think about and how they live.  But we cannot fix the connection because we are dead (and vice versa!).

How did that happen?  It is explained in the first couple of pages of the Bible.  God told Adam, “On the day you deliberately disobey Me and decide you don’t need Me, on the day you think you know better than what I have been telling you, on that day you will surely die.”  Well, He didn’t say it exactly like that; it had to do with eating the fruit and all that.  You can read it for yourself, but that is the essence of it.  Adam did disobey God, and he did die that day.  It wasn’t his body that died; his hardware didn’t die.  His soul, his software, didn’t die; he was still able to think and feel and decide.  What died was His spirit, his intimate connection to God.  He lost the “signal,” like a dead cell phone.  Adam became spiritually dead, he and all his descendants (that’s you and me).

Now go back to Isaiah 57:15, where God says He “lives with” the contrite and lowly in order to “revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”  That means He connects the cell signal of His Spirit to those people to bring them back to life – real life.  There is a whole bunch more to this… We’ll get back to it next time.

Getting a Grip

Grasping the enormity of God is impossible; He is too big, too much.  We do well to only get a small grip.  We know He exists; we just can’t wrap our mind around Him.  For a number of years, my response to the impossibility of fully knowing God was to tell myself (and everybody else) that there was no God.  I’d say, “I’m not going to believe in God unless I can fully understand Him.”  Then my seatmate on a plane said, “Buddy, if you can fully understand it, it isn’t God.”  Good point.  And, there are a lot of things we don’t fully understand (like, for me, how this blog thing works) and yet we know they exist and use them.

That guy’s remark helped me stop being such a skeptic, and dare to be a real skeptic in the original sense of the word.  “Skeptic” comes from the Greek word, skopos, which means to look deeply and carefully into something to ascertain the truth of it.   If you think about it, it’s much more exhilarating to look into things you do not understand fully.   That’s why it’s fun to watch a child learning about soap bubbles.  That’s why it’s exciting to swim with dolphins.  That’s what motivates scientists.  Probing what we do not fully  understand fills us with awe and wonder.

God exists.  He created everything, knows everything, has power over everything.  And for some reason we cannot fully understand, He loves you.  We cannot fully grasp God.  But get a grip on Him and let your heart be filled with wonder and awe.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.   Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)[1]

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.