The problem with “Simple Faith”
“I have a simple faith.”
This past week I attended a charity luncheon. I go to many of these as well as nice gala’s for different charities. At each one there is an invocation. Usually it is not a “real” prayer and is a scripted advertisement for the charity. In this most recent invocation the prayer included two statements that made me cringe. The first was “Oh God who is father and mother to us all” and the second was “be with us as we all see the goodness within all of us revealed.” I know, I am just over analyzing the situation right? I brought up the statements to a fellow believer and they shrugged it off as “different” and they weren’t interested in picking things apart like that. They mentioned that they just have a “simple faith” and didn’t get mixed up in the complex issues.
Lately I have been told this by very different people and in very different circumstances. There is a simple sweetness to be found in such a statement. After all, to say that “I have a complex faith” would be confusing, even a turn-off. Can you imagine someone asking you about your faith and your response being “It’s complicated?”
In a certain sense I appreciate the term “simple faith.” It brings to mind Matthew 18:1-4:
At that time the disciples acame to Jesus, saying, ” Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Here Jesus makes it clear that there is a sort of simplicity that is needed for one to approach him. He gives a great visual of this when he calls the young child to himself and welcomes him as a simple child. This childlike faith has the following characteristics: obedient to Jesus’ call, vulnerable, trusting, and wholly dependent on Christ. Like this child, we all must be.
If this were the context of which people were coming from when they utter the words “I have a simple faith” then we would have common ground. The problem that burdens me is that the context is much different than this. This statement is either spoken to me or written to me after a discussion, or teaching, about the Bible. As we discuss the doctrines of Scripture, even the basics, it seems to many a complex and troublesome conversation. Not only is this a response from people that are in the audience of such basic teaching, but I have also heard many teachers speak negatively about doctrine, theology, and other “dirty words.”
I have some bad news. Please don’t read this as being judgemental, but attacks on these words only reveal the ignorance of the one using them. Doctrine =teaching. Theology = study of God. See if doctrine and theology were only for the academic superheroes then that would mean that all others disregard the teachings of Scripture and refuse to know God. This is absurd, I hope. It is my fear that Tozer is right when he writes in The Pursuit of God:
The doctrine of justification by faith–a biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort–has in our time fallen into evil companyand been interpreted by many in such a manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved,” but he is not hungry nor thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and is encouraged to be content with little. [emphasis added]
Translated, Tozer is saying that we are content thinking that Jesus paid their debt and now they will go to heaven when they die instead of receiving the full wrath of God. This, in short, is the doctrine of justification. That is not where the story of the Bible ends. There is a new life that is lived once the disciple has responded to the call of the Good Shepherd. Based on all of the doctrine and theology of Romans 1-11, Paul turns his attention to the implication of all of that teaching:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 [emphasis added]
The implication is that every ounce of our being must be given to God so that instead of being conformed to the world in practice we will have our minds renewed. This renewing of our mind is to see our lives and the world around us as God does. The entire purpose of our life is changed. Notice that the benefit of this renewal is that we will actually be able to discern the will of God! This does not happen overnight, however it is a process of growing in knowledge. Not only will the believer hunger for more understanding, wisdom, and knowledge, but it is commanded to the believer. Jesus answers a Pharisee’s question about the greatest commandment of the Law of God:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39 [emphasis added]
So if the greatest commandment is that we love God with our heart, soul, and mind then does it matter whether that is a childlike heart, soul, and mind? There is a distinction that must be drawn here. To love God with our heart and soul is to have every ounce of our being be devoted to growing in Him.
Childlike faith DOES mean that we trust God and respond to Him without hesitation.
Childlike faith DOES NOT mean that we remain a child in our thinking and living.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7 [emphasis added]
Another “dirty word” that is sometimes uttered is sanctification. Once we have been rooted, we are built up. The process of our conforming the to image and stature of Christ is sanctification. Don’t be afraid of this word, it will not bite, but it will save! The Holy Spirit sanctifies by comforting you, guiding you, encouraging you, interceding for you, revealing God’s will to you, and leading you in the paths of righteousness. He matures us. We see in Scritpure also that the leaders of the church, gifts of the Holy Spirit, are in place for a very specific reason:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:11-16 [emphasis added]
Peter echoes this desire for growth:
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:17-18 [emphasis added]
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:2-3 [emphasis added]
God has not only blessed us with the Holy Spirit and church leaders for spiritual growth, but also has given us His Word.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 [emphasis added]
Unfortunately, I fear that today many of us are content to be the little child sitting on the knee of Jesus and not desire to be the men and women that He charged to make disciples of all nations by going, baptizing, and teaching. (Matthew 28:18-20) Notice that one of the reasons we are to mature is to not be persuaded to falsehood by bad teachers. Those that are content with “simple faith” tend to not be able to recognize the falsehood swirling around them. Osteen’s prosperity gospel, Oprah’s mystical “whatever,” and Rob Bell’s universalism all taste good on the lips of those who cannot understand the poison that is hidden in the sweetness. This is not a new problem unique to us today, but Paul recognized it back in the time of the early church.
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready… 1 Corinthians 3:1-2
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 1 Corinthians 13:11
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 1 Corinthians 14:20
The author of Hebrews addresses the problem of impaired growth:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, foreveryone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity not laying again a foundation of repentence from dead workds and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement. Hebrews 5:11-6:2 [emphasis added]
So here is the point:
We are to come to Christ with the trusting, vulnerable, and dependent faith of a child. When found in Him we are to grow in the faith (our heart, soul, and mind) into the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, unto maturity. We must not live on milk, but cut our teeth on the spiritual meat of the Bible. As we do this we will be able to discern the will of God, the errors of false teachers, and the deeper truths of God that we hunger and thirst for. We are able to do this by the power of the Holy Spirit and with the help of church leaders, the Bible, and of the Father himself.
In John 15: 2, Jesus says:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [emphasis added]
God not only wants you to grow in the knowledge of Christ, but he commands it. As you grow and serve in the Kingdom God will use many different circumstances to produce more growth. It is not simple. It never has been and never will be.
Childlike faith is not simple faith. Childlike faith seeks the embrace of God and leans heavy into him. Let us have a childlike faith in God, but seek him daily as we feast on the solid food of the hard truths in the Bible. In this quest for the truths of God we will all find ourselves inadequate of understanding. But God provides a promise:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:5-6
Let us all have the trusting faith of a child, but the desire and drive to ask God to reveal the mysteries of Scripture as we diligently pursue Him through His Word.
Obedience is Mine. The Results are His.