Biblical Name-Calling

Ephesians 4:17-24.  We have become rather sensitive to name calling and judgment.  We use descriptions of people’s cultural identity with some trepidation.  So, when the Apostle Paul just blurts out, “you must no longer live as the Gentiles live.”  It’s like politically incorrect fingernails screeching across a politically correct chalkboard.  It also feels a bit like a contradiction.  Way back in Ephesians 2, Paul emphasized that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works.  Grace—that wonderful, amazing word—means that God loves and forgives people no matter what they’ve done.  Grace means that we never have to rack up enough good points to earn God’s favor.  Grace means we can never be so bad that we exceed God’s forgiveness.  Grace means everyone is accepted—even the Gentiles.

Gentile is a term Jews used to refer to anyone who was not a Jew.  Paul was a Jew.  The earliest Christians were all Jews.  They had a cultural identity that reinforced their Judaism.  They kept Kosher eating practice—abstaining from foods they regarded as unclean and eating only foods they regarded as clean.  That meant no bacon; no cheese burgers; no catfish.  They observed a particular calendar.  They did not work on the last day of the week.  They kept Sabbath.  And they observed Holy Days like the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and Passover. And depending on how they structured their lives, they refrained from associating with non-Jews.  The Christian movement within Judaism had conflicting viewpoints about all of this.  Keeping Kosher was alright for some but it must not be imposed on others.  Keeping Sabbath was good if it didn’t become a burden since Sabbath was a gift not an obligation.  And the cultural practice of avoiding interaction with non-Jewish people confronted the message that God was available to all.  Paul believed either his commitment to the freely accessible grace of God or his commitment to avoiding Gentiles had to yield.  Paul gave up the isolation and became an apostle to Gentiles proclaiming to us the free gift of God’s grace.

This commitment ran into trouble.  The Gentiles had behaviors that weren’t consistent with the Gospel.  They could be more tolerant of a licentiousness.  We should not overlay our own post-Victorian hang-ups about sexuality on to the early Christians.  Hellenistic culture reinforced hierarchies.  Powerful and wealthy people could do what they wanted.  They could use people who had less wealth and less power to act out their own fantasies.  Paul who is often accused of what today we would regard as sexism was fairly radical in his views of marriage at the time.  He believed in mutuality in marriage—a progressive thought for his time.  In the seventh chapter of 2 Corinthians, he taught the importance of mutual consent.

It sound simpler than it really is.  Today as Christians, we struggle to balance acceptance and accountability.  How do we tell people that they are accepted no matter what and at the same time convey that some of the things they are doing are not compatible with the gospel?   Invariably someone will raise up the cliché, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”   We have seen, however, that this statement is usually given as a pretext for judgment that conveys very little love toward sinners but enough judgment to spill over to persons.  Even so, the moral landscape has changed.  Sexual standards have changed.  And if you just thinking there’s something Freudian going on today—let me just say that I do my best to preach the text in front of us.  Our translations tidy up the wording a little, but that’s what this text is about. We could lament that we’ve become too lax in our standards of decency and discipline.  Yet, we have also become more gracious and kind.  If we treated each other with the rigid morality of the Puritans, few—if any people—would remain in communion.

Church attendance norms have changed.  The church I serve has members in their 80’s and 90’s who apologize if they miss one Sunday out of four and jokingly express fear of being “churched” – which is an ironic euphemism for being thrown out of church.  I’ve never understood that phrase, “getting churched.”  It sure sounds painful.  Those jokes about church attendance lose a lot of context once we reach our members who are Baby Boomer generation and below.  In our younger generations, attendance at worship on the major holidays and one Sunday out of four is consider active membership.  The moral landscape of our world has changed.

While today some standards have changed.  New ethical expectations have emerged.   Today’s ethical standards take a much harder standard on bullying.  The sort of name-calling, physical intimidation and pranks that people once wrote off as a rite of passage is no longer acceptable way to treat people.  We have increased expectations of one another concerning recycling and responsibility for the Earth’s resources.

To provide just one final example of the difference, think about what the phrase church clothes means for us today.  For some of us, your “Sunday Best” means a dress, make-up, coat, tie, and pressed slacks.  For some of us we continue to dress this way because it’s how we worship God best.  Others of us feel that God doesn’t care about how we are dressed and neither should we.  We are coming to worship not to fashion week.  But, I hope none of us would confuse what we wear for a central tenant of the gospel.  But, we also would recognize that though we would accept one another in a range of clothing that stretches somewhere around pajamas and house-slippers all the way up to formal evening wear, there are some things that people just shouldn’t wear.  Certain messages that get printed on T-Shirts that are too offensive to condone.  Clothing so suggestive it sends a dangerous message to others.  How do we say to each other—come just as you are, but oh—don’t wear that.

This wasn’t an isolated aspect of Paul’s ethics.  It stems from the gospel itself.  If indeed God loves and cares for each person regardless of their culture, status, or gender, then each person has integrity.  The personhood of each person had to be respected on the grounds that each person was respected by God.  Thus Paul’s ethics of weren’t so much rules that lived suspended in time and space.  They were rooted in the deeper elements of his theology.

Reconciliation enabled the Ephesians to live the life God had created them to live. The transforming power of God is found in the embracing of God.  Some cliches have been shown to be outdated and need to be dropped from our discourse.  But there’s one I think is still valuable and applicable.  “No one cares what you think until they think you care.” By establishing God’s grace first, Paul has established the trustworthiness of God.  If we do not keep grace in the forefront of our mind, we create an image of God as a punishing deity waiting to dish out punishment on those who step out of line. The most commonly repeated description of God in the entire Old Testament is this, “God is gracious and merciful. Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

What the Bible says about repentance must be understood within the context of God’s love.  As Max Lucado has said, “God loves you just the way you are but loves you too much to leave you that way.”   Repentance is a gift flowing out of grace. The Lenten theme this year–Clothed in Christ–is such a powerful metaphor for this experience.  In order to be clothed in Christ, we have to take off the clothes we had been year.  Where those clothes are clothes of a sinful habit, or the clothes of an unhelpful attitude, or the clothes of a self-complacency.  Clothed in Christ asks us first to consider what clothes we must leave behind.

When we are clothed in Christ, some things no longer fit. Despair no longer fits.  Apathy no longer fits.  Complacency no longer fits.  We can no longer fit into the clothes of our past for God’s grace has made us new in the present and presented us with an unfolding and glorious future.


Prisons Paul Chose Not to Live Inside

Ephesians 3:1-13

Nobel Prize winning novelist, Doris Lessing, authored a series of essays a couple of decades ago entitled, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside.  It is a pessimistic book.  She wrote about “how often we are dominated by our savage past, as individuals and as groups” (p. 5).  She wrote about the European domination of Africa and its slow reversal still on the verge of becoming when she wrote in the mid-1980’s.  She wrote about the Fascism of Hitler’s Germany and the totalitarian socialism of Russia and elsewhere.  The solution to the problems she observed lie in our capacity to make other choices than the ones we are making.  We had chosen to live in prisons, driven from one task to the next by an unwillingness to examine and explore the motivations that drive us and the mindlessness with which we conform to our perception of group consensus.

In contrast to Lessing, the Apostle Paul’s letter to Ephesus might well have been entitled, Prisons I Choose Not to Recognize.  Though in literal chains, the letter makes only a passing glance at his imprisonment, “This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1).  Paul was not one who turned a blind eye to problems.  .  In other places Paul has described his situation.  Paul complained about the treatment he received in Asia when he wrote to Timothy.  He told the church in Galatia about his fight with Peter and the leaders in Jerusalem.  In Philippians Paul lamented that people were preaching the gospel out of selfish ambition.  In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul provides an inventory of the ways he has suffered: given lashes five times, beaten three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times—adrift at see through the night, suffering privation and exposure.  Paul could detail his troubles as well as anyone.

Paul believed that his sufferings had joined him with Christ.  Paul believed, you see, that God’s grace was meant for everyone, e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e.  It confronted people who thought they were favored by God.  It was a disruptive message, but it was disruptive based on how wonderful God is not how iconoclastic Paul was.  And Paul had a burning desire that would not let him do anything but throw open wide the doors and declare God loves each of you.  The world is still not ready for that message, by the way.  Oh, we think we are.  We think we take it for granted.  But we don’t.  We like the people who are like us and who like us.  And the people who fall outside those categories don’t receive our affection and love.  Paul was tenacious about it.  He knew that for most people to believe that God loves them, someone with real authority was going to have to tell them and he knew it wasn’t enough just to tell them, he had to show them.




Ephesians 3:1

In Greek, there’s a curious word that shows up in Epehsians 3:1-13—oikomonia.  It refers to the management of a household. Three of the nine New Testaments uses of the word occur in the book of Ephesians—two of those coming in chapter 3.  In verse 2, it’s the word the NRSV translates as “commission” (it is the sending forth of God’s grace).  In verse 9, it’s translated as “plan”—the plan of the mystery.  Look through several versions of the Bible and you’ll see different words used there.  It’s a struggle to know exactly what oikonomia means—is it a reference to God’s plan or the responsibility entrusted to Paul?  Should it be understood as divine possession or human obligation?

I was warned by a trusted Christian friend once that saying, “both” when two or more good possibilities present themselves is a tempting way out of too many dilemmas.  A temptation we ought to resist more frequently.   But in this case, oikonomia really does mean both.  It is the human responsibility over the divine possession.  And that’s why my favorite translation of oikonomia is “stewardship.”  It is that which belongs to God and has been entrusted to us.

Stewardship has to do with belonging. The world belongs to God.  And we belong in it.  Within the lives and world that belongs to God, God has chosen to give us freedom but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t care.  God gives us the freedom to choose and God desires  that we would choose to rightly. 

Stewardship assesses the situation and acknowledges the brokenness in the world.  God hasn’t given us a broken world and said, “here you fix it.”  God has been about the business of fixing it.  He sent Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection show evidence of what God determination to repair what has been broken.  God longs for the redemption of a broken world and says, “this is what I’m about come join me.”  And that’s where Stewardship begins with a humble recognition of all that God has done and a spiritual awareness of what God is doing and a determined participation with God.   The true stewards are the ones who are overwhelmingly moved by God’s agenda that they simply can’t stand not being a part of it. 


Reconciled with who

Reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another walk hand in hand.  Ephesians 2:11-22 shares an early Christian understanding of what it meant to live within the reconciliation God provides.

The earliest Christians were Jewish.  They believed that God fulfilled ancient promises through Jesus Christ.  In Genesis 22:18 we read how God promised Abraham, “By your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”  Similarly, God said through the prophet Isaiah, “it is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel” (Isaiah 49:6a).  This came as the people of Judah an Israel had experienced a devastating defeat at dispersal at the hands of the Babylonian Empire.  They were at the threshold of a time of rebuilding.  People who have been wounded and victimized often want to draw in and take care of only themselves.  Yet, God said that merely restoring the people of Israel wasn’t enough. He said, “I will give you as alight to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6b).  A similar kind of commission is given in Isaiah 55:5 where the Lord said, “You will call nations you do not know and nations you do not know will come to you.”  Some descendants of Abraham embraced this role.  Others did not.

Sometimes Christians today talk about the earliest followers of Jesus Christ as though they were the only ones willing to embrace this mission to the whole world.  Everyone else was exclusive.  That’s not entirely true.  Christians were among the most passionate supporters, but the call was heard and understood within Judaism.  The presence of “God-fearers” in Jewish synagogues gives evidence to this.  God-fearers (Acts 13:1; Acts 13:26) were non-Jewish believers in the one God of Israel.  They were part of Judaism before Christianity and their presence shows that some within Judaism invited non-Jews to be a part of worship of YHWH.

Sometimes Christians today talk about the earliest followers of Jesus Christ as though found it easy to embrace non-Jewish Christians within the Jesus movement.  This is not entirely true either.  The New Testament has numerous references to times when the earliest followers struggled.  Peter’s visit to the gentile Cornelius’s house and subsequent baptism of Cornelius (Acts 10:24-35) was a big deal.  The church in Jerusalem was pretty upset and demanded that Peter give an accounting of what he did and why (Acts 11:1-18). It is not easy to worship with people who don’t observe your holy days; eat with people who don’t observe your food rituals; or talk with people who do not have your theological vocabulary.

Ephesians 2:11-19 shows how Paul sought to persuade the early church.  He said—God has been willing to accept us without requiring us to “work for it” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  The gift means that salvation is all a work of God.  It is offered to everyone freely.  It reconciles people to God and in the process it reconciles people to one another.

Saved: Purpose

Ephesians 2:8-9 is about being saved.  This week, I have been looking at different ways to understand the nature of salvation.  I have suggested that salvation is more than after life.  It is relationship, trusting God with both life and death, acceptance and accountability.  This final entry on Ephesians 2:8-9 leads us to Ephesians 2:10.  Salvation leads us to purpose.

Much has been made of the devastating experience of being chosen last for the team.  It is indeed a crushing blow to a child’s ego.  But consider the flip side, God chose you to be on God’s team.  God chose you first and foremost.  I love the call stories in the Bible.  My favorite is Isaiah’s.  But I also really love Jeremiah’s.  God spoke to Jeremiah saying, “before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).  As well read Ephesians 2:10, “We are what he has made us, create in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”  Good works was the pathway God has given us.

Think of the joy you have felt when you have visited someone who was lonely.  Think about times when you have served alongside others help restore someone’s home.  Think about the insights you have been able to offer to others in discussion about the things of faith.  These are the now experience of salvation

Take some time to remember experiences of times when you have felt that you were truly fulfilling God’s purpose in the world.  It need not have been a long season; it might have been something very quick but share with one another these experiences of salvation.

Perhaps you would name other experiences that come from knowing God.  This lesson has named just three—acceptance, order, and purpose.  The goal of the lesson is to begin thinking about the effect knowing God has in our lives.  People will be drawn to Christ as we learn to share more clearly and faithfully the effect our own faith has had on us.

Saved: Accepted and Accountable

Ephesians 2:8-9 is about being saved.  This week, I have been looking at different ways to understand the nature of salvation.

Paul Tillich delivered a somewhat famous sermon entitled, “You Are Accepted.”  In it he said,

“We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’ If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance. (from Shaking the Foundations, pp. 161-162).

Spends some time discuss what difference it makes to you to have been accepted by God?

Some Christians speak as though the whole message of Christ can be summed up in the call to do good things for others and love God.  Jesus also taught people to have a conservative lifestyle around things like lust (Matthew 5:27-30), anger (Matthew 5:21-26), judgment of others (7:1-5), evil intentions, violence, theft and false witness (15:19).  The gospels do not present a Jesus who never speaks out about sin.  The gospels do present Jesus as one who never got angry with sinners. He found a way to grant mercy to a woman caught in the act of adultery; he also did say to her, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).  Salvation means coming into relationship with God and that relationship does involve authority.  The key thing to keep in mind:  God uses authority to guide and sustain us. 

Christian author and pastor, Greg Boyd, speaks of “power over” and “power under.”  Power is the authority to direct people’s actions.  Parents have power relative to their children, bosses with employees, teachers with students, and rulers with the governed.  Power is never the problem in and of itself.  Power is a resource like money.  It can be used wisely or it can be used unwisely.  It can be neglected or it can be invested.  Power over people is the power that directs others actions in ways that benefit the powerful.  Power under is a use of power for the benefit of those directed.  God’s power is power under.  God does not use God’s power capriciously for God’s own ego—no, that’s the way the Greek and Roman God’s are portrayed.  Rather, God’s assertion of power is always directed for the benefit of the directed even when we balk against it.  And, not to get off the subject, but godly parents, bosses and teachers are the same way.  Godly people can be very demanding of others.  What makes them godly is that meeting their demands makes children, employees, and students better people.

Here’s a vulnerable question to ask and many will not want to answer.  But try finishing this question, “Were it not for God’s authority in my life I probably would have . . . .”

Saved: After Life or In Life and Death

The way Christians frequently imagine salvation is in terms of what happens to you after you die.  We can think about catch phrases that may overstate this point, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” AND “Turn or burn?”  More modestly think about the Hymns that praise salvation as life after death,

“when all my labors and trials are o’er, And I am safe on that beautiful shore, Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, Will through the ages be glory for me.  O that will be glory for me, glory for me, glory for me; When by His grace I shall look on His face, That will be glory, be glory for me.”

This and many other hymns reinforce the conviction that salvation is primarily about life-after-death.

What about the life we live before death?  The language some people find helpful here is “now-not yet” language.  By that they mean that we can think of salvation as an experience we have in the now but also something that awaits us.

Consider 1 John 3:2-3:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2–3, NRSV)

John points to the present-tense we experience the beginning of salvation, “Dear friends, now we are children of God.”  Now, we are children of God.  It is a present experience of knowing we are created by and within the household of God.  He goes onto the not yet.  In the future there will be more, “what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know (present) that when he appears (future), we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  This reality influences how we live, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he [God] is pure.”

As we try to integrate the pattern of the kerygmatic sermons into our own approach to evangelism, naming the ways we experience salvation in the here and now is how we give voice to the “effect” of the Gospel.  This is generally what is meant when we say the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”  That is not a prayer for heaven but rather a plea for Earth.  It is about the experience of salvation that we see and feel and experience in the here and now.

The now experience of salvation is felt whenever we sense God’s love.  There’s no way to make an exhaustive list of the now experience of salvation but let me name just three.

Saved for Relationship

Ephesians 2:8-9 affirms that we are saved by grace through faith.  So, it is appropriate to ask what “Salvation” or being saved means.

Do you think of salvation as primarily a reward or primarily a relationship?  Salvation as reward mentality says that if you do the right things or believe the right things, God will reward you with heaven and in heaven you’ll have the banquet feast, the streets of gold and endless beauty, a life free from pain and struggle.  Heaven as relationship mentality views heaven as that place where all the barriers that separate people from God and people from one another are removed. Heaven as relationship is preferable as it conforms to the priorities of Christ who said to love God and love neighbor is the greatest law (Matthew 22:34-40).

Newell Williams tells the story,

Story:  “Peggy Davidson Ewing was the seventy-six year old widow of Finis Ewing, a leading Cumberland Presbyterian preacher who had been a successful lawyer before entering the ministry. She was also the daughter of the family for which Davidson County Tennessee was named. It seems that a development officer, probably wanting to talk with Mrs. Ewing about a planned gift, asked Mrs. Ewing, “Do you not anticipate a happy meeting with those loved ones who have gone before?” To which Mrs. Ewing answered, “O yes; and it will be joyful, but nothing like seeing my precious Saviour: without Him heaven would be no heaven to me.” (from Newell Williams lecture on Disciples Spirituality).

Mrs. Ewing was working from a “salvation is relationship” mind-set.  Specifically, it was a relationship with Jesus Christ that made all other relationships pale in comparison.

We could easily say that salvation is both reward and relationship, but I think it is important to stress that the relationship aspect of salvation ought to be primary.  One reasons is because when we think about salvation as relationship rather than salvation as reward, it helps us understand other aspects of our faith.  Salvation as the restoration of relationship reveals the nature of sin as enmity—enmity with God and enmity with others. Sins against God—idolatry and irreverence—stem from the impulse to lash out against (express enmity toward) God. Enmity doesn’t have to be absolute.  It is not hatred.  Enmity is an impulse.  Sins against neighbor–greed, abuse, gossip, jealousy, disrespect of parents, theft, and sexual promiscuity—reflect an enmity between people.  Even the sins of self-damaging behavior stem from impulses of enmity toward self.

The example of sexual sin—The enmity impulse is what compels us to treat people as less than people.  If you’re familiar with Martin Buber’s language it’s what causes us to create and “I-it” relationship to people rather than an “I-thou” relationship to people.  Casual sexual relationships mean that people become means to another person’s ends, and merely pleasurable ends at that.  Any time we treat, people or our own selves as things to be used rather than creation to be honored, we have given into the impulse of enmity.  We have sinned.  When we think of salvation as reward we think that if we follow certain rules and accrue certain points, God will bless us with certain blessings—health, wealth, and happiness.  From that perspective, sin jeopardizes the reward.  But when we understand sin as that which strains or ruptures the relationship, salvation is the repair of the relationship.  From that perspective, we do not seek an additional reward from salvation.  Instead the relationship with God is the reward.

It Is a Gift

Ephesians 2:8-9 reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. “.  

I hear many people say they do not like the Apostle Paul.  They assume he was arrogant, mean spirited, that he hated women, and didn’t like old people.  I’ve found that if Paul were removed from the New Testament, most Protestants would be gasping for air.  It’s Paul who says repeatedly that salvation is not the result of what we do but only what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ.   I warmed up to Paul personally because at a young age, I knew there was no way I was going to measure up to God’s standards.  It was the Apostle Paul who told me, I didn’t have to.  

As I’ve aged, I’ve come to discover the harder side of grace.  It is a gift.  It is a gift so I cannot manipulate a transaction where in God likes me best.  It is a gift so, my first response must be praise and thanksgiving.  It is a gift so God receives the praise and I can’t take any credit.  It is a gift.  

The other alternative is what’s called works righteousness.  That’s the belief that our deeds make us righteous or unrighteous.  Works righeousness creates a few religious workaholics, but I beleive it creates far more peoplel who feel simply helpless.  Wben I was a child I would get in trouble.  I didn’t know why half the time, but I also came to believe that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to abide by the rules or live up to the standards. So, many days I just gave up.  I didn’t try.  I believe people do that with their journey with God.  They accept the premise that they must do something to get God to like them–salvation.  And knowing that they can’t live up to God’s standards, they simply give up.  When I hear that grace is a gift and that I had to do nothing to receive it, I do not get the easy way out of giving up on myself.  I cannot give up on myself because God has given me this gift and the gift should not be wasted.  

Through Faith

Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves it is the gift of God.”

At the church I serve we have been looking at the Apostles’ Creed.  I did not grow up reciting a creed.  In the Baptist church where I grew up much like the Disciples churches I serve now, the word “Creed” felt like a dirty word.  We often pitted the “man-made creeds” against the “word of God” which meant scripture.  Yet, a seminary friend of mine–an Anglican–stopped me short one day when he asked me, “Why do you trust the church to give you a canon, but not give you a creed.”  The same historical development that gave us the 27 books we call the New Testament also gave us the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. So, 20 years later, I’m working my way back toward my friends question.

The Apostle’s Creed says, “I believe” three times.  One for each person of the Trinity. So, it compels us to ask–what is faith?  What does it mean to believe.

Faith is Content

We have said “faith is more than just agreeing with a set of truths” so often that we may have forgotten that faith is also agreeing with certain truths.  The New Testament church had a confessional side.  Confession in the sense of verbally affirming faith is an important them in the New Testament.  John 9:22 speaks of people being thrown out of certain religious circles for confessing that Jesus is the Messiah–the Christ.  Romans 10:9 and Philippians 2:11 both speak of confessing with the lips or tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-20 all tell the story of Jesus asking the Disciples “who do you say that I am?” and their response through Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Through our hearing, believing, and professing our understanding of truth, we know what salvation is and how it looks in our lives.

Faith is Trust

Faith is living with the reassurance that that which we say is true is trustworthy.  Like many people, I need the constant reassurance that I am forgiven, that God loves me, that the future rests in God’s hands, and that beneath all that perplexes me is a God who is true.

There’s a story about one of Jean-François Gravelet, known as Blondin, walks across Niagara Falls on a tight rope.  He apparently asked, “how many people think I can walk across the falls on a tight rope?”  The crowd cheered.  Then he said, “how many people think I can walk across it carrying someone?”  The crowd cheered again.  Finally, he said, “and who would like to be the courageous volunteer?”  The crowd was silent.  The picture is actually of his manager–who saw that the act needed this to be profitable–being carried across Niagara Falls on Blondin’s back.

That story is often used as illustrating faith as ascent to content against faith as trust.  But, in reality, the getting on Blondin’s back without a cognitive awareness of what he intended to do would have been a simple piggy back ride.  What makes this sort of faith trust is the knowledge of what’s at stake.

Faith is Obedience

Finally, faith–if it is true–leads to obedience.  It causes a person to move and act in accordance with what the believer says they believe.  All three ways of understand faith–as acknowledgement, trust and obedience are essential.