Study Guide: Losing the Faith Game

Sunday January 16, 2011 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

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.

Extended Summary:

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.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. When you think of the faithometer theology, how have you seen people use it? In what ways was it detrimental to their lives and their walk with God?
  3. When you look at your own life, how have you understood faith? Was it closer to faithometer theology or covenantal faith and in what ways was it closer?
  4. In what ways have you seen faith in others?
  5. Who are two or three people in your life that you can ask the questions “Am I reflecting my trust in God in my life? Am I rooted in God’s grace and living it out?” Make a plan to have these conversations.