(Prepared for a sermon on Matthew 17:14-25)
Most of the time when we hear the word “faith” we associate it with religion. So and so belongs to that religion and he really believes. However, when you stop and think about it, what distinguishes a religious person from someone who is not, is not their faith but what they believe in. The truth is that everyone believes in something. I’ll even go further and say that all of us – even atheists – live most of our lives on faith.
How can I possibly say that? Isn’t saying that an atheist lives his life by faith a contradiction in terms? Doesn’t it also contradict Scripture which over and over declares that most people don’t have faith? It is true that many people do not believe in God. It is true that most people have not put their faith in Christ. It is true that most people are outside what the New Testament calls “The Faith.” Having acknowledged that, it is also true that everyone has a core set of assumptions and beliefs by which they live their lives. It’s not that they don’t believe, but rather that they believe in the wrong things.
What is faith, anyway? The Bible defines it this way: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) Everyone is sure of a lot of things they can’t prove so, by that definition, they have faith. For example, we can’t see gravity or electricity, but we sure believe in them because we can see how they affect us. We believe but very few people can give a rational explanation of them. Even those who can give reasonable explanations often disagree with one another about what gravity and electricity really are. We do not know, but we are certain. We accept the testimony of experience, the few aspects of these phenomena we can measure and the word of those who have studied more than we. Further, we do not consider it strange for people to believe and to act on their belief in electricity and gravity even though they can’t actually see or describe these things.
Why then, do people look down on us because we believe that Christ is the Son of God and that He rose from the dead? These days it’s fashionable to sneer at Christians by saying, “I believe in science!” (As though Christianity and science are incompatible.) Most of the people making that claim are more ignorant of science than we are of the nature of God. They blindly accept what they’ve been taught while dismissing the Scriptures which are based on eye-witness testimony. The Apostle John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1 NIV)
But even though our faith in Christ is a reasonable faith, which we have learned from those who actually saw Jesus in the flesh, it is very easy to forget. It’s easy to allow the teaching and the philosophies of the world distort or contradict the spiritual truths we know. It’s easy to lose heart when we hear the mockery of those who follow a different god. The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Christians at Colosse, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:6-14 NIV)
In this passage Paul gives us several keys to remaining strong in our faith. Among them are:
Applying what Jesus taught to daily life.
Evaluating worldly philosophy for what it really is.
Remembering that we were dead and Christ gave us new life.
And, remembering Jesus’ sacrifice which made our new life possible.
That’s one of the reasons we gather each Sunday – to remember what Jesus did. The Communion anchors us. It reminds us of reality. It shows us the emptiness of what the world has to offer. We renew our faith when we eat the bread and drink the cup.