Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (NKJV)
If faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, isn’t it worth paying good attention to what you’re hearing? What does the word of God say about whatever situation you’re in? Have you taken the time to find out? Well, have you?
I know many people who despise the Bible and would sooner poke their own eyes out with blunt sticks than sit and actually study the Bible. Many of these people grew up in Christian homes, just like I did, and rejected the Bible and the God it points to as soon as they could or as soon as God ‘let them down,’ just like I did. I notice too that these people are often well-educated, sometimes extremely well-educated, and use that as a reason for their atheism or in many cases, agnostic-atheism. The fascinating thing is that these people often claim to know the Bible yet conversation almost always reveals that they know no more than they remember from Sunday-school lessons and/or evening prayers at home, decades ago. They may be loathe to admit to this but they aren’t rejecting the Bible or the God of the Bible, for the most part they are rejecting, and rightfully so, the mis-interpreted Bible as taught by missionaries and missionary schools
(with their emphasis on good works and meekness of spirit as gateways to heaven) and they reject the God worshiped by many of our parents: the God who is little more than a stern sort of father-figure with a big stick whose only goal seems to be to stop you from enjoying anything , or the Santa Clause caricature who rewards goodness with material wealth and nothing else. I rejected that God too, and it wasn’t until I came face to face with the God who sent Christ to be my Redeemer that I finally understood what all the fuss is about.
1 John 2: 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
I went to church every Sunday and cell-group every Tuesday. I sort-of prayed and sort-of worshipped and studied the weekly Bible studies. Some days it was all real but more often than not it was a scam I was running on myself because deep inside I was wracked by doubt and unbelief; I was lying to myself and those around me. The idea that I wasn’t experiencing what everybody else seemed to be feeling because there was something wrong with me, because I was somehow more sinful than everybody else (the sheer egoism of this belief is astounding) filled me with a fearsome dread that kept me bound in the secrecy of my doubt for years, until the time came when I finally threw it all away and turned my back on the church and the body of believers. I should have confessed my lack of faith and sought answers to my questions but that’s just not the sort of thing one did in those days, in that place, at that time. One played along and danced the dance because if you weren’t bubbling up with the joy of salvation it could only be because you were wrong somehow, and I just could not face that perceived wrongness in myself. So I played along and lifted my hands in worship when others did and forced tears into my eyes at the appropriate moments – if you saw me then you would not have doubted for even a second that I really ‘walked in victory’ and lived in the peace that surpasses all understanding… Oh! If only I knew then what I know now, what misery and anguish and despair I could have saved myself. But then, I wouldn’t have this story, and if there is one thing I have come to know about God, it is that everything, every single thing, is part of His perfect and pleasing plan. Thank God that He is a God of mercy and compassion and that He did reveal Himself to me when I thought all I knew about Him was so much bullshit. No really, thank God!
Romans 7: 15, 19 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
It sounds as though my struggle with lack of faith for all those years was a constant daily struggle. It wasn’t. Most of the time I didn’t even think about it; indeed it was at times uncomfortable to think about because despite the many incorrect messages about what it is to be a follower of Christ, there were still valuable messages mixed with the hogwash but I rejected those too because I just couldn’t be bothered and because I wanted to keep on doing what I was doing without worrying too much about what God had to say about any of it. I wanted to be a ‘good’ Christian, I wanted to be obedient, but I didn’t really want to do the work I needed to do in order to die to self. I wanted to see the goodness of the Lord and I do recall brief moments when God in His might gave me glimpse into what it could be if I surrendered fully. But I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. My life was too good, there were too many things I thought I’d have to give up that I didn’t want to, not even for Christ, a Christ I wasn’t even fully sure I believed in. So I faked it and called myself making it.
The truth is that I could have engaged more with the Bible (there’s still plenty of room for improvement in that area even today), I could have shared the state of my heart with leaders I trusted (there were one or two), I could, at any moment, have chosen to rip off the mask and stand in my truth as I saw others do time and again. I didn’t do any of those things because sin is a snare and at first a pleasurable one, and I wasn’t ready to give up any of it because I had not tasted nor seen the goodness that the Lord has for those that love him. Even now, when I have tasted and seen, I still find myself doing the evil I don’t want to do instead of the good I do want to do. If Paul himself could admit to that, I can too, and perhaps so can you. There is freedom in admitting that we are not perfect, isn’t there? You should try it sometime, maybe.
If the people I mentioned earlier were truly honest they’d admit that all those Sundays in church, all those Bible studies, were useful for tilling the ground upon which the seed was thrown but did little to develop the relationship between themselves and God because though they may have worked to give an outward appearance of devotion, their hearts were never truly in it. I would go to church having spent the night in a bed I had no business being in, and I would pray, as sincerely as I was able given that my faith was shaky at best, for forgiveness and mercy during the service, even go up for the altar call, knowing full well that this relationship was not one I was ready to walk away from, God or no God. I wanted to keep doing what I was doing and I wanted God to understand and bless me anyway. I took no responsibility for what I was doing, foolishly reasoning that if God wanted me to stop He would somehow make it impossible for me to keep doing what I was doing, since me stopping myself was so obviously an impossible thing. I’m not sure what I thought about free will and all that, but there you go. I wanted to live my life the way I liked. I am amazed that God did not strike me down in my arrogant waywardness and I am even more amazed at the generosity of Grace, wonder-struck at how far above ours His ways are. We cannot surprise God and His plan will always come to completion. I don’t know all the reasons why God allowed me to do what I did and live the way I lived but I do know that had He not, I wouldn’t have a story to share about how He, to steal a phrase, lifted me up from the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock. I wouldn’t have a testimony to give, I would not be able to bear witness to saving Grace. If nothing else, the privilege of testifying to the gospel of Christ and the goodness of the Lord is a privilege I don’t take lightly and I pray that for His glory He continues to use me and show me how best to serve His purpose.
Amen and amen.