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Losing the Faith Game

• Greg Boyd

Faith is often understood in measurement terms. Some say people need amounts of faith to receive benefits from God. Faith, however, should be understood in relational terms and not “faithometer” terms. The illustration of a marriage best serves the idea of how faith in God works.

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Last week, we spoke about how faith is not the same as certainty but is rather covenantal trust. Faith was not about being certain of the things you know, but rather trust within the relationship with God. We introduced the idea of a “faithometer” which is a fictional instrument that can measure how much faith a person has.

This type of thinking is prevalent in evangelical Christian circles, and it can be devastating. If a person’s child dies, they can believe it is because they didn’t have enough faith. It can turn faith into a tormenting, damaging psychological gimmick. The people who tend to do this type of faith best are usually simple, self-deluded individuals—people that can easily create their own reality in their heads. The people who are bad at this type of faith are the more rational and grounded individuals. This is probably why a lot of whacko things happen in the name of Jesus.

One of the reasons this type of faith is so prevalent is because people see faith in a court of law paradigm. God is the judge, and we must do everything to stay on the judge’s good side. This can lead salvation to be a percentage matter—do we have enough faith to be saved? Are we at 51% faith or 49% faith? It can seem like a person is on a faithometer Prisoner Release Program. Yet, the terms of release aren’t clear—what exactly needs to be believed or how strongly a person needs to believe in order to be saved. Since heaven and hell are allegedly at stake, we can see why people get extremely obsessed about this issue. There are even “heavenly probation officers” in some churches that have 90+% on the faithometer, and they decide who’s in and who’s out.

This type of thinking is profoundly self-absorbed. It forces a person to only think about themselves and to judge themselves. A person asks “Do I believe enough, Am I sure enough, and Do I know the right things?” A faith that was supposed to be centered on Jesus becomes centered on the believer. As we said last week, this is idolatry because a person’s life, worth, and identity come from themselves and not God.
The Bible’s concept of faith is not magical or psychological—it is relational. We shouldn’t think about our faith in terms of a court of law but rather we should think of it like a marriage. God’s ideal relationship isn’t based on judgment, but it is based on pledges of trust from each participant. Our pledge of trust should focus on God, not on ourselves. Biblical faith is an other-oriented concept. This leads us to see how we’re exercising covenant faith.

We see our faith by looking at how we act on our covenant vows. Faith is an action word. The people in Mark 2 showed their faith by acting on the idea that Jesus will heal their friend. We show faith by acting on our trust in Jesus. If one has faith, they are acting on it, and it can be seen. That person is trusting God and being trustworthy. If one isn’t acting on it, then their faith can’t be seen because it isn’t there. It is similar to marriage. A person can ask themselves all day if they are fulfilling their marriage vows—loving, cherishing, respecting, taking care of, and for better or worse—but if they are not actually acting and doing these things, then they are not being faithful to their marriage. A stumble here and there is forgivable, but if these actions are non-existent, we’ve got a problem.

When we say “I do” in marriage, we commit to moving in a certain direction and not look back. The evidence that we are continuing to move in that direction is by looking back at the path we have taken and the road ahead. The state of our psychology and feelings is irrelevant. The best way to find out if you’re being a good marriage partner is not by self-deluded introspection, but rather by asking your spouse or friends. Ask them for honest feedback about your love, honoring, and respecting your spouse. Then you will see if you are being faithful to your covenant in marriage. This is the same for our covenant with God. We need to ask our spouses, friends, and ourselves if we are moving in the direction of the Kingdom. We need to ask if they can see our trust in God. Is our life, worth, and identity found rooted in God’s grace, or is some other idol of this world?

Faith is always more visible to others than to ourselves. The faithometer theology is attractive precisely because we get to avoid asking these questions of our faith. Is it being seen by others or not? If we convince ourselves, then it doesn’t matter what our relationships look like. We can believe we’re a loving spouse, when in fact we may not be a loving spouse. We can believe that Jesus is Lord, when in fact we are not living that way. Our primary questions should be “Am I reflecting my trust in God in my life? Am I rooted in God’s grace and living it out?” And these questions are best answered by those that know us best and can be truthful with us.

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Topics: Covenant, Faith, Marriage

Sermon Series: Faith and Doubt

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Focus Scripture:

  • Mark 2:1-5

    A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

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9 thoughts on “Losing the Faith Game

  1. Michelle says:

    I find the question who are you trying convince coming to mind when I listen to your words. Someone in your life is clearly feeling the need for a secure hug. Things are pretty simple when it comes to love. Time can always be better spent without words. Good nuggets though.

  2. Nicole says:

    Oh, I laughed and felt so happy to hear you say that sometimes you think you suck as a Christian! That’s kind of my ‘mantra’. I tell people all the time (especially my pastor) that I suck as a follower of Jesus. So now that I’m hearing it from a pastor it makes me feel normal, affirmed, that it’s okay to be that honest. You know, of course, that’s it’s not really true, or at least that it doesn’t really matter in the whole picture but I’m just tickled to hear a pastor (preacher) I admire saying the same thing. Thanks, Greg. You have strengthened my resolve to follow Jesus, regardless of how badly I do it. God is really changing me inside and giving me the desire so I will continue to follow.

    I love listening to you.

  3. Nicole says:

    I really wish you could somehow set up the video streaming so that when you post a comment the whole video doesn’t have to reload and start over again from the beginning. I can’t wait until the end to post because I’ll forget everything I wanted to say.

    Peace and love.

  4. Jim LePage says:

    Nicole: Great idea about setting up the page so it doesn’t need to refresh for comments! We’ve got a list of enhancements we’d like to make to the site and I’ll add that on there.

  5. Rick Nelson says:

    This is one of the best descriptions I’ve heard about “faith without deeds are worthless”.

    I’ve struggled with this one. I have had a notion for a long time that actions alone do not buy me a way into the presence of our Lord. Such as if being a rich person and thinking my money and spending it certain ways would achieve the goal. I’ve never had enough money to be secure, so this one gets me befuddled in many ways. But, I get the notion at the base of meaning. So, having to do things and have faith that I’ve let it go from my perceptions.

    I can accept letting things go, letting my perceptions go, allowing that I can do what I desire to be the best possible. I don’t find that to difficult. I can empathise with others, I hope the best for others, and am willing to do for others where I can. Defining what I can and can’t do does get nuanced. I have to evaluate certain justifications that my wife imposes upon our relationship. If I could upset the balance of what my wife considers an imposition upon our family, in order to help someone, then I could be going beyond viable limits?

    I find it difficult to understand some viable limits, as when I would use my time to help someone, and it would take time from being at home, then, what consequence is there for my home/family. It’s not easy to do this. I know how to put others needs above my own, but sometimes I could be putting others needs above my family and then imposing my good deed with negative consequences. Those could be dishes undone, a project for the home put off, lost opportunity to be with my young son, or something.

    Well, enough for now.

  6. George Alves says:

    The faithometer sure helped me understand the true meaning of this passage and what faith is. For many Christians Faith is the currency of God’s Kingdom and if you earn enough Faith dollars then you can buy and get anything you want. I see faith now as the direction you are leaning in, moving in, moving towards. Its the object/person in whom you place your trust, where your commitment is and according to that direction, leaning, etc. you reap what you’ve sowed and as it is in agriculture a teeny tiny seed produces an amazing amount of fruit…or vegetables if that is your leaning 🙂 Thanks again Greg and WH church…may God keep blessing you guys!!!!!

  7. Sergio says:

    Thanks Greg 🙂 Blessings from norway

  8. Kathy Hude says:

    Another great analogy to which I can relate. I had the husband who was never home. We have 5 children. I tried to keep it together for 38 years and caved in. Was it right? I guess not! Would I do it again NO. it totally devastated the second27, the 18, and the 14 yr old.She took the brunt of it, but now has not to much to do with me. the other 4 are boys. I think after you make the commitment you loose all rights to your feelings. Because you love, you should do what is right for the whole, not just what is best for you. The entity of you doesn’t count any more. However all of then learned from the experience and and are all but 1 good husbands, and wife.
    So in the same way, as we should have committed to each other, we should also commit to God. and when you do, like the song says,” There’s no turning back,no turning back.”After the wreck guess where I landed. Oh his doorsteps.

    God has a strange sense of humor!!

    Thanks again for a good analogy
    May God Bless you in all you do!!

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