January 26, 1992

WELL-FOUNDED FAITH

“…so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:5

When it comes to religion, many people seem to think it doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you believe in something.  You should have faith in whatever seems to work for you.  It’s not all that important whether what you believe is actually true, as long as you are sincere about it, and it makes you feel better about yourself.

And I can’t deny that there’s an element of truth in this.  Faith, even when it has nothing to do with reality, can have some pleasant results.  Santa Claus isn’t real, but many little boys and girls have fun believing in him anyway.  Shirley MacLaine isn’t God, but it sure makes her feel good to think she is.  Even if faith is based only on a myth, it can give people a reason to go on living in the middle of hard times;  it can provide some moral guidelines;  it can bolster self-esteem and self-confidence; and it can nurture positive thinking.  It appears that faith has the power to improve mental attitudes even when it is not based on reality.

So as long as you’re sincere about your belief and it makes you feel good, does it really matter whether it’s true?  Well, I’m afraid it matters a great deal.  Faith-based on fantasy may have its benefits, but it also has its limits.  Faith can sometimes help a person feel better, but in the end, faith that is not based on the facts will do more harm than good.

Let’s say you have some money you want to invest, and you have strong faith in a certain company.  You believe it’s a company on the way up, you’re positive that it’s a great investment, and so you buy shares in it.  You expect to reap enormous profits, and–well, it makes you feel good just to think about it.  Now, does it really matter whether the company is as good an investment as you think it is?  Isn’t the important thing that you feel good about the company and have strong faith in it?  I’m afraid not.  All the faith in the world won’t keep you from losing money if the company turns out to be a failure.

Or suppose you have a serious infection.  You visit Dr. Quack, and he says you should first allow leeches to suck some of the infected blood from your body and then you should drink some of his Magic Wonder Potion.  However, even if you believe very deeply in Dr. Quack’s advice, his methods won’t cure your infection.  You need to find a qualified physician who can offer a real cure.

One more example:  You want to go somewhere, and you ask me for directions on how to get there.  What would you think if I told you, “Take any road you want.  It doesn’t matter what road you take, as long as you personally believe it is the right road?”  You’d probably shake your head at me and then go ask someone else who would be willing to tell you exactly how to get where you want to go.  You know that it’s not enough to believe you’re on the right road.  You need to be on the right road.

So it’s clearly not enough to be sincere and feel good about what you believe.  Your beliefs have to be in touch with reality.  Your faith must be based on fact.  It must be well-founded faith.  And that’s just as true of faith in God as it is when you’re asking for directions, seeking medical help, or making an investment.

If you want to enjoy the riches of heaven, it doesn’t matter how sincere you are or how good you feel, if you are investing yourself in a religion that turns out to be bankrupt.  If you want to be healed of spiritual illnesses, it won’t help to have sincere faith in any religious quack that comes along.  You need the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, and the spiritual medicine he provides.  If you are trying to find the way to God, it won’t do you much good to be told that you can follow just any road, as long as you sincerely believe it leads to God.  You need the right road. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Jesus is the only road that leads to God.

So does it matter what you believe?  You bet it does!  It is not enough to be sincere.  You can be very sincere and still be sincerely wrong.  The apostle Paul saw this in many of his fellow Israelites.  They were very sincere and very religious.  They felt that God was pleased with them–they were sure they had God’s approval. But they were wrong.  In Romans 10:2 Paul writes, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.”  In other words, they are very sincere, but they are also very wrong.  They hold their beliefs very strongly, but they are mistaken.  And they will never receive God’s favor or enjoy eternal life unless they are made aware of their mistake and put their faith in Jesus.

So it just isn’t true that any sort of belief is okay as long as you are sincere about it.  A faith based on fantasy can make you feel good (at least for a while), but only a well-founded faith that connects you with the living God will bring you joy for all eternity.  People need much more than a pleasant fantasy–they need the Lord.  People need more than sincerity–they need the Lord.  They need more than positive thinking–they need the Lord.  People need the Lord.

People need the Lord.  We need a faith that is based on the reality and power of God himself.  Nothing less will do.  In 1 Corinthians 2:5, the apostle Paul emphasizes this when he says that his goal in preaching is “that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”  Paul knew that well-founded faith depends entirely on God and his power, not on human wisdom or human achievements.

So what kind of faith is it that rests on God’s power?  How do you know that you have well-founded faith?  The Bible’s answer to that is unmistakably clear.  You encounter the saving power of God at the cross of Jesus Christ.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1 that Christ sent him “to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).

The message of the cross is the power of God, the only solid foundation for faith.  To many people, however, the cross seems foolish and irrelevant.  That’s because the cross answers a question that many people aren’t even asking.

Paul describes the problem this way:  “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified:  a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (v. 22-25).  The Jews, the most religious people of Paul’s time, would accept something only if they had a miracle to prove it.  The Greeks, the most educated and philosophical people of that time, would accept something only if it fit in with their ideals.  But whether they were looking for miracles or for wisdom, the religious people and the educated people were both still beginning with the same basic question:  “Why should I accept the Lord?  Give me a good reason.”

But the message of the cross answers a very different question.  It really doesn’t say much about why I should accept the Lord.  The cross answers the question, Why should the Lord accept me?  And that’s quite a different question, one that most of us would rather not think about.  Why should an Almighty God accept people when he could get along without them perfectly well?  Why should God accept people who disobey him every day?  Why should a perfectly holy God accept filthy sinners?  Why should the Lord accept me?

That’s a question we prefer to avoid.  We’d rather picture ourselves in control, deciding whether or not we will do God a favor and accept him.  You may have heard a preacher pleading with you to accept Christ, begging you to receive the Lord, as though it’s all in your hands.  And of course the first logical question that comes to mind is, Why should I accept the Lord?  If God is willing to meet your demands–say, provide a miraculous answer to prayer, or give a logical explanation of why he runs the world the way he does–well, then you might be willing to accept him.

But Jesus did not die on the cross to make God acceptable to us.  He died to make us acceptable to God.  We have all failed miserably to live a life that is perfectly pleasing to God, and we deserve nothing but God’s rejection.  So the only way we can have a well-founded faith is if we have an answer to the question, Why should God accept us?

And the only answer to that question is the cross.  The message of the cross is that God accepts us only because Jesus Christ has suffered in our place.  Jesus endured a punishment he didn’t deserve so that we could escape the punishment we did deserve.  Christ paid the price of sin, he suffered wrath and rejection, and he endured the pain of hell itself, for all those whom God had decided to save.  From all eternity, God the Father decided to save sinners through the sacrifice of the life of his Son.  At the cross, God laid all our sins on his sinless Son, and at the same time, he credited all the goodness of Jesus to those for whom Jesus died.  You begin to have a well-founded faith the moment you believe this, when you realize that Jesus’ horrible death on the cross took place for you, that he is your substitute, that your sins have been nailed to the cross with him, and that his perfection has been credited to you.

This is much more than just general knowledge and belief that Jesus died on Calvary and then rose from the dead.  It is the conviction and confidence that he did this for you, and that your identity is found in him.  In Galatians 2:20 Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.  The life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Jesus Christ crucified is the focus of a well-founded faith, because Jesus Christ crucified is the only answer to the question, Why does God accept me?

We can’t base our faith on anything else, not even on miracles.  Faith in miracles can’t make us acceptable to God.  One of the quickest ways to draw a crowd to church or create a lucrative media ministry is to advertise miracles.  People are attracted to miracles.  But there’s a difference between being drawn to miracles and being drawn to saving faith in Jesus Christ crucified.  Some alleged miracle workers are phonies and frauds, of course, but I’m not going to get into that right now.  Right now, let me just say that even if a miracle is a real, supernatural event, it is no guarantee that a person has been accepted by God and is assured of eternal salvation.

A miracle only means that something supernatural has happened.  But it doesn’t prove that God is the supernatural power behind the miracle.  There are also evil powers that are out to fool people.  Jesus warned that “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24).  And Paul issues the same warning when he says, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the works of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9).

Supernatural signs and wonders are not a solid foundation for faith.  They do not prove that God has accepted you.  Don’t think for a moment that Satan wouldn’t be willing to heal your body if he could steal your soul.  Don’t think for a moment he wouldn’t be glad to give you a sensational religious experience that makes you feel very good about your faith if he could keep you from the cross of Jesus Christ.  It’s an enormous mistake to believe that a particular religion is true, or that you have God’s approval, just because you receive a miracle or a mystical experience or vision.

Even if a miracle or some other wonderful event is the work of God, it can never replace the cross as the focus of a well-founded faith.  Jesus did many miracles, but he said that only when he was lifted up on the cross would he truly draw people to himself (John 12:32).  Jesus healed bodies by his miracles, but he heals the soul only through the saving power of his death on the cross.  So if your faith is focused only on miracles and remarkable experiences, you don’t really have a well-founded faith.  God’s power for salvation is found only at the cross.

Miracles are no substitute for faith in the cross of Christ, neither is human wisdom.  A faith that depends only on logic and rational arguments is in trouble.  I’m not knocking academic research and intelligent arguments.  I’m just saying that these things don’t make a very solid foundation for faith.  For one thing, science and philosophy and archeology are constantly changing and developing new theories.  The accepted theory today may be thrown out tomorrow, and when it disappears, so will your faith.  Your standing with God needs something more solid that human theories or arguments.

If Paul had based his preaching on Greek philosophy, the Christian church would have collapsed when Greek philosophy went out of fashion.  But Paul preached the Word of God, and he preached the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Those are things that don’t change.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” and he is the sure foundation of a faith that cannot be shaken.

Besides, if we’re honest about it, human wisdom won’t help us much when we come to the very heart of the Christian faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus.  These events are the result of God’s power, and not the product of human wisdom.  Research and argument have their value, and there is plenty of evidence for the reliability of the Bible.  But the cross and resurrection are unique events that human logic is simply unable to evaluate.  After all, salvation isn’t something we dreamed up;  it is the work of God.  Science and philosophy are fine, but they cannot tell us how God can accept us.

If you feel that you are right with God only because someone has convinced you with a clever argument, your faith will disappear the moment someone else offers a better argument to the contrary, and you will never be sure that God accepts you.  The glory of genuine faith is that it does not depend on any of these things.  It has no need of human wisdom or power.  From beginning to end, a well-founded faith focuses on the work of God in Jesus Christ. Miracles and arguments may sometimes bolster and confirm this faith, but real faith depends only on the cross of Christ.

When the apostle Paul called people to faith, he deliberately concentrated only on the cross.  When people demanded miracles, he preached the cross.  When they asked for wisdom and logical proofs, he preached the cross.  Christ had sent him “to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Paul reminds the Corinthians, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthian 2:1-5).

Paul wanted people’s faith to depend on the power of God and on nothing else.  He deliberately refused to use his great powers of persuasion, though he was one of the most brilliant men who ever lived.  He chose not to perform miracles on demand to win people over, even though in other situations, he did have power from God to perform miracles.  Instead, he preached the message of the cross and counted on the Holy Spirit to move people to believe.  He knew that the Holy Spirit would open the hearts of everyone for whom Jesus had died.  Their faith would focus on the cross, and it would flow from the Holy Spirit’s work within them, not from Paul’s cleverness or his ability to manipulate people’s emotions.  Paul didn’t want his listeners to say, “What a great preacher!”  He wanted them to exclaim, “What a great Savior!”  He wanted them to have a well-founded faith, based entirely on God’s power.

I am certainly no better than Paul.  If you want to have a well-founded faith, I can tell you about nothing except the cross.  And even as I tell you about the cross, I can’t talk you into believing it, and as a matter of fact, you can’t even make yourself believe it.  Well-founded faith is not based on how persuasive a preacher is, and it’s not based on how good you are at psyching yourself into believing.  It comes only when the Holy Spirit himself opens your heart (Acts 16:15).  You can’t “accept the Lord” until you first become aware that the Lord accepts you, and only the Holy Spirit can convince you of that.  And that’s the way it should be.  True faith isn’t something that people can manufacture on their own.  It is based on God’s work in you.  When your faith is prompted by the Spirit, it is a faith that will last.  Nobody talked you into it, and so nobody can talk you out of it.

The Spirit first convicts you of your sin, so that you stop asking, “Why should I accept the Lord?” and you start asking,  “How can the Lord accept me?”  You are humbled before the majesty and holiness of God.  And then, as the Spirit continues to work, you begin to understand why God accepts you.  You realize that he accepts you because Jesus died on the cross in your place.  Your sin was laid on Jesus, and his righteousness has been credited to you.  Because of this, you know that you have been crucified and raised with Christ, and that nothing can ever separate you from his love.

This kind of faith is not just wishful thinking.  It is not a pleasant fantasy that makes you feel better temporarily.  This is well-founded faith, based on the saving power of God himself.  You don’t focus on how strong your faith is.  You focus on how strong your God is.  You don’t focus so much on the fact that on a certain day you decided to accept Christ.  You focus on the fact that from all eternity, God decided to accept you.  You were chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world, and Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead to reconcile you to God.  The one who convinces you of this is the Spirit of God himself.  He gives you well-founded faith, a faith that depends not on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.

PRAYER

Father in heaven, I pray now that you will take this message of the cross and by your Holy Spirit open the hearts of many to believe it, to know that you have accepted them through the sacrifice of Jesus, and to enjoy the benefits of belonging to you.

Thank you, dear God, for loving us so much that you sent your only Son to die, that we might live forever.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.