What Is Faith?
March 10, 2018
Verse: John 3
Christ Lutheran Church
March 11, 2018
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
What Is Faith?
For God loved the world in this manner: he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes might not perish but, in him, have everlasting life. John 3:16
Today’s gospel gives us the opportunity to expose a troubling myth of the Christian religion that has harmed us all.
And it is ironic (though perfectly in keeping with the devil’s M.O.) that this fabrication has been most perfectly propagated by the famous verse we have before us today John 3:16; a soaring verse of Holy Scripture that consoles us in our darkest hour.
But also a verse that became the rallying point for Protestants in their doctrinal wars against Rome over the last 500 years. A verse that they used to demonstrate that sinners are “saved by grace through faith” in the words of today’s epistle. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Who are these Protestants? To make a long story very short they are those sects and denominations that deny the gospel by way of the Sacraments. While they affirm the Lord’s death on the cross as the world’s salvation, they deny the “means of grace.” They disdain the Real Presence of our Lord’s flesh and blood in the Eucharist; and refute the power of baptism in the strongest possible terms.
They teach, in accord with John 3:16, that whoever believes in him has eternal life. But in their dictionary “believing” appears to be little more than a mental exercise. A conversation that goes on in their heads, and stirs their emotions. And that wrong definition of faith has influenced and harmed us all.
But our purpose today is not to insult anyone’s religion. To the contrary, we must respect other people’s religion to the same degree that they are willing to respect ours. But we will always object with as much vigor as we respect.
With that said let us learn today that faith is not a mere mental activity, emotional response, or intellectual assent to a list of biblical propositions – though that is surely part of the package. But that to “believe in him,” to avoid perishing for our sins, and to gain everlasting life means simply this: to become a disciple of Jesus! That is what we learn in today’s gospel and in all of Scripture: that to believe is to become a disciple of Jesus. Which brings us to the most important question of all. What does it mean to become the Lord’s disciple?
To become a disciple of Jesus, according to this famous chapter of the Bible, means first to be baptized as the Lord taught Nicodemus. Or in the words of today’s epistle to receive the “the gift of God,” which is Christian talk for baptism.
If you are of a certain age baptism must always be preceded by Christian instruction. For the infant or small child it must always be followed by Christian instruction. But nor is baptism and instruction the whole matter.
One who is baptized must live the baptismal life which consists of two things. Worship, what we are doing now; and of sacrificial living, what we all must do when we leave God’s House with the dew of the benediction fresh upon our ears.
First, the baptized worship, which also is not a mere mental exercise that can be done from your bed, or your weekend retreat, but takes place in God’s house, and involves your whole person: body and soul, mind and spirit. It entails getting up, getting dressed, and making the trip to the church (Psalm 122:1). It means reverent movements, bowing, crossing, sitting, standing, kneeling, speaking, hearing, seeing, feeling, trusting, tasting and smelling as well: like the toddler who said to his mother on the way back from the altar: “Mommy, I can smell Jesus’ blood on your breath.”
And so to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is” (Hebrews 10:25) but to say “I believe in Jesus” is fake news, and hazardous to your spiritual health.
Secondly, the baptized live a sacrificial life.
A life in which we die to ourselves and come alive to the needs of our neighbor, remembering that charity always begins at home, and branches out from there.
A life in which you die to yourself and come alive to God, to his Word and his will for your life. In the words of St. Paul: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may discern the good, acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2). Said another way: we must stop letting the culture do our thinking for us, and setting our agenda for us because God’s people must march to the beat of a different drum.
Our guiding light must never be the whims of culture, or the burning passions of the flesh, but the “whole counsel of God” as it is found in the Bible, the church’s creeds, confessions, customs and in her sacred writings. These should occupy chief place in our hearts and minds.
And so let us give first place to the things of God and not the things of the world. Because our goal is not to live this present life forever. But to live here as God’s children, God’s agents, God’s church, for as long as God assigns us – and then to enter eternal life. The life of the Holy Trinity. The life that God himself lives. Or in the words of the 16th Psalm: You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. That is the goal of believing, dear Christians, that is the goal of faith.
And so coming full circle faith is not the mental exercise that you have been taught to think by the influence of Protestantism. It is impossible to say: I believe, I am a Christian, but not be baptized, not live the baptismal life here at God’s altar, and in your daily vocation. The sacrificial life that we are reminded of every time we look at the crucifix before us, which informs our worship, and our lives.
As the Lenten Gradual says: O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
And so look to Jesus, become his disciple, and you will not perish as your sins deserve, but have everlasting life in him. Amen.