“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Recently, Disciple Magazine reprinted something I wrote back in ’09 and which they had run then in their previous incarnation as “Pulpit Helps,” a print publication. “Reasons Not to Give” was an attempt to teach principles of giving to the Lord’s work through the back door, so to speak.
Today, it occurs to me that this principle has much broader implications than what I had seen at first, and it needs expounding upon.
To do anything by faith means there are reasons pro and con. The person of faith goes with the evidence “for” and the unbeliever the evidence “anti.”
In the matter of giving to the Lord’s work, for instance, reasons to give generously and faithfully abound–including obedience to the Lord and to scripture, as an investment in the lives of others, to lay up treasure in heaven, to conquer my own materialistic urgings, and to fund the Lord’s missionary work at home and throughout the world.
However, this being a matter of faith means there are reasons not to give to the Lord’s work. These would include questions about where the money goes, the possibility of some of the money funding undesirable activities, the definite fact that we have good uses for that cash here in our own family, the large salaries some denominational people draw, and the difficulty in paying my own bills. Driving down any highway in America, one sees expensive church buildings on every side, all built with the offerings of sincere worshipers. One does not have to be an unbeliever to ask whether some of that money could have been put to better use.
Not everyone who chooses not to bring an offering is an atheist.
To repeat, there are two sides to every decision that involves faith….
Prayer is a two-sided thing.
Reasons to pray would include: I want fellowship with the Lord, He commanded us to pray, I have problems for which God is the answer, there are people who need divine help whom I will never know or see personally and prayer is a great way to bless them. When the Lord said, “Men ought always to pray and not to lose heart and faint” (Luke 18:1), He was identifying a great incentive for people to pray.
But there are reasons not to pray, starting with the fact that no one has ever seen God, no one can prove His existence to our satisfaction, and most of the things we pray for we will never know in this lifetime whether God heard and answered or not. Prayer could be talking to oneself or dreaming out loud. Prayer does not yield its answers to the scientific process.
Not everyone who refuses to pray is a fool.
Worship is a two-sided thing.
The person who enters God’s house and brings an offering, kneels to pray, or stands to sing a hymn is making a faith choice. He/she believes. They know there are positives and negatives on the subject of worship and they have cast their vote.
Positive reasons to worship include (as always) first and foremost that Scripture commands it. Our own souls desire it, since it appears that every culture of every age has known some kind of worship. We leave strengthened, unburdened, and redirected for whatever life has for us, so we keep coming back to worship. While there may be no objective, scientific method of proving worship’s efficacy, if it had no value, millions upon millions would not keep returning for more week after week.
The person who chooses not to worship may have found some reasonable negatives, chief among them being its irrationality. To the rational mind, singing the same hymns and offering similar prayers week after week make little sense. In denominations like ours (the Southern Baptists), half the service is consumed by a man standing at a pulpit and speaking/preaching on a subject. Some do this well and others are absolutely terrible. And yet, the faithful keep filling the pews, Sunday after Sunday, year after year. Some of those sermons are helpful and some, let us confess, are awful.
Not everyone who chooses to skip worship is anti-God.
Belief itself is a two-sided thing.
I suppose at the end of this little section, we will have to post a sentence to the effect that “not everyone who chooses to disbelieve is an atheist.” That sounds contradictory, as though we said not everyone who skips meals is choosing not to eat, or not everyone who refuses to go to bed is anti-sleep. And yet, there it is.
Belief is a faith thing. We believe by faith–see Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, and Galatians 3:11–as we do everything else in the Christian life.
That is not to say there is no evidence for belief. No church I know is preaching “blind faith,” meaning calling people to profess faith in Jesus Christ without solid evidence. Critics insist this is what we are doing when we speak of acting on faith. But their ignorance does not undercut the need for solid faith based on good reasons.
Entire libraries have been filled with works on “why we believe.” The writings of Lee Strobel (“The Case for Faith,” “The Case for Christ,” and such) are most popular today, and we’re told the works of C. S. Lewis, who went to Heaven in 1963, sell better today than in his lifetime.
Reasons for faith include the very existence of the Bible, the testimony of the ages, the consistency of Scripture’s teachings from one end to the other, the various testimonies about the Lord Jesus Christ, the many evidences for His resurrection (what Acts 1:3 calls “infallible proofs”), the way the gospel of Jesus Christ shot across the Roman Empire in the first century which indicates some kind of spiritual explosion in Jerusalem, and the existence of the church itself.
But are there reasons for unbelief, for rejecting the Bible and Jesus Christ? While saying ‘yes’ to this makes me feel disloyal and opens me to charges of something or other, the fact that “faith is a faith decision” demands that the answer is a definite yes. There are reasons not to believe.
God’s people must never turn a blind eye to the fairly strong reasons people have for rejecting a belief in God and turning away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those would begin with the shoddy lives God’s people have often lived, contrary to the teachings of the Lord Jesus whom they profess and the way they teach. As the prophet Nathan said to King David after the sordid business of his adultery and then the outright murder of Uriah, the faithful husband of Bathsheba, “You have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Samuel 12:14).
Some reject the gospel because they cannot accept the concept of sin, of the death of the God-man atoning for that sin, and the mystery of imputed righteousness.
Unbelievers often have their reasons.
God is Spirit and no one has seen Him. And, the Bible does not make the slightest effort to prove His existence. It opens with the words, “In the beginning God created…” From the first, it just assumes the existence of God. In fact, Scripture declares several times “the fool has said in his heart there is no God.” However, it’s important to note that while the fool says that, nowhere does Scripture insist that everyone who says those words are fools. (Simple logic makes the distinction.)
There are things in the Bible hard to understand, stories in the Old Testament that I as a New Testament follower of Jesus Christ find hard to swallow. And I am not talking about Noah or the destruction of Sodom or Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt! How about a disgruntled prophet railing against some children and bears coming out of the woods and killing them (2 Kings 2)? (I’ll stop with that one. The reason it came to mind first is that I once attended a debate between atheist Madalyn Murray-O’Hair and a minister in which she told that story and her cheering section had a field day with it, illustrating to their minds at least how cruel is God and how ridiculous the Bible.
Believing the Bible is a faith decision. Deciding to pray is something we do by faith. Bringing an offering, kneeling to worship, opening my mouth in praise–all are actions of people of faith.
When our Lord asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) He was asking us to consider whether people would still be acting on behalf of belief and not unbelief when He returns.
Which makes a final point we must not miss.
All unbelief is a faith decision, too.
There is so much evidence against unbelief that to choose not to believe in God, not to worship Jesus Christ, not to accept the Bible or confess Christ or pray or bring an offering is a faith decision.
Some people are making blind-faith decisions not to believe. They refuse to consider the evidence for faith. They’re unwilling to read the Bible and open themselves up to the possibility of a living God who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. They simply choose to disbelieve and cannot give a reason for the paganism in them. Give them a copy of one of Lee Strobel’s books and they turn away in disgust, poisoned as they are against even the possibility they might be in the wrong. (It reminds us of C. S. Lewis’ word that the young agnostic cannot be too careful of his reading.)
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). And, then there is this: “The righteous person shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11).
Someone says, “I have a little faith, but I need more.” When they said that to our Lord, He said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could work miracles.” It’s not more faith you need. You need to use the faith you have, small though it may be.
Then, see what God will do.