How Do I Know My Faith is Real? - Jon Fryer
Dear Aunt Deirdre.
2 Corinthians 6;16 says ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’… so how come I don’t feel any different? I mean, I think I felt something warm and fuzzy when the other guys prayed for me, and I’m pretty sure that God was talking to me, but now, three weeks later, it all seems like a distant memory. School is such a hassle, my friends drink, swear and smoke, and nothing much has changed. I’m not sure if I met God or whether I imagined it. How can you tell? How do I know if I’m actually a Christian or not? How do I know if my faith is real?
A Doubting Thomas.
Many of us find ourselves in this situation. In the cold light of day we find ourselves questioning our experiences and wondering if what we felt and saw and heard was real, or whether we just imagined it. This is nothing new. People have have been questioning their faith for centuries. People have always wanted proof of God’s existence.
I could show you all sorts of things from the Bible that God says about Himself, but then the question comes back: ‘How do I know I can trust the Bible?’. Ultimately, it always comes back to faith. So what is faith? One youngster famously put it ‘Faith is believing what you know ain’t true’! I think what she really meant to say is ‘Faith is believing what can’t be proved by science’.
The Bible gives a few pointers to God’s existence – it tells us to look up at the stars and then honestly try to say that there is no God. It tells us to look inside ourselves, at our desire to worship, and at our belief in right and wrong, and then honestly try to say that our existence is all just an accident. That’s all very deep and poetic, but what does that mean to me? I’m a child of the twentieth century, and I want cold, hard, scientific proof. Unfortunately we can’t put God in a test-tube and point at it and say ‘Here is God’, and more than we can put love in a test-tube and point at it and say ‘Here is love’… love can’t be proved scientifically, and neither can the existence of God. Love can however, be proved experientially – we have all experienced love in one way or another, and so believe in it to some extent. Many things that can not be seen can be proved by experience – I’ve never seen the wind, but I believe in it, because I’ve seen the effects the wind. I have experienced it, felt it, seen it work on the environment around me. I’ve never seen the wind, but I believe in it. (See John 3;8)
I personally have come to have faith in God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Bible in the same way. One evening way back in 1993 I was at a meeting of young people very much like this one up in Scotland, and God visited that meeting by the power and presence of His Holy Spirit. I felt touched by something I had never felt before and I met with God. I don’t have any way of proving it to you and can cite no higher proof for it other than my own experience, but I believe that I met with God... But as we all know, experiences fade, feelings pass, and doubt creeps in… why do I still follow the God that I met? Why do I still have faith? Fortunately for me, over the years, Christians older than me have always turned me to the Bible. They have said to me ‘See what is written here? Do you recognise Him? Is this the God you met personally?’ and I have to agree that it is. The Bible describes to me in words that do not fade away all of the promises that God gave to me personally in my experience of Him. I can see cold hard proof that even when I no longer feel the warm fuzzies, the truth of God’s promises do not fade away.
More importantly, the Bible reminds me of the character of God, even when I am feeling far away from Him, and am starting to forget what He is like. You see, faith isn’t about believing a list of unproven facts; faith isn’t about believing five impossible things before breakfast. Faith is about believing and trusting in a person whom you have come to know and love. Webster’s dictionary describes faith as ‘Belief of trust that does not question or ask for proof’. I don’t believe that that definition is correct. I ask God for proof all of the time. I question Jesus’ sanity fairly frequently! Faith is not unquestioning, faith is believing and obeying even when the answer to those questions is ‘I’m not going to tell you. Trust me!’. I believe in God because I met Him. I continue to believe in God because I recognise the person that I met in every word of this book. I have experiential proof that parts of the Bible are unquestionably true, and so I believe the bits of which I have no direct experience are also true… you see the God I met spoke the truth to me, and I recognised the truth and could not argue with it. When I read about Him in the Bible, I recognise that truth again.
If the Bible could be summed up in one word, it would be the word Truth. The Bible says that the totality of God’s word, from head to foot, is Truth. The presupposition of faith is the truthfulness of God. The ultimate reason for faith is His truthfulness. Faith is not produced out of the air. Faith is not produced by the words of man. My mere speaking to you here will not produce faith in you. Sadly, faith is often defined in the church in terms of what philosophy calls ‘precursive faith’: They say that man has a capacity to believe, and if he just believes enough then God will honour that level of believism, and He will materialise that which is believed in… well, that’s not biblical faith! Biblical faith has a single presupposition, and that is God’s truthfulness. When you are convinced and persuaded of the integrity of God by learning His nature, then His truthfulness, His dependability, His reliability is so ingrained in your mind that (as a by-product of that knowledge) you depend upon His dependability, you rely on His reliability, you trust in His truthfulness, and you rest in His security. It is not how much you believe, it is not how hard you believe, it is your understanding of who He is, who He is, and when you stand on the truth of who He is then you stand on a foundation that has never wavered. All other ground is sinking sand, yes?
Romans 10;17 – ‘Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ’. When you hear a word about the integrity of God, when you hear a word about the character of God, when you hear a word about who He is, it produces a response in you where you know that He can be trusted, that He can be relied upon – you only have faith when you know, when you know, experientially, a God of reliability… and the emphasis shifts from off you… to God. And the emphasis shifts from off you… to God. When you have a relational, growing knowledge of who God is as your creator and redeemer there is a supernatural by-product, and that is that your faith is in Him alone.
The root of every problem in the church is a wallet sized conception of God whom the universe can not contain. The reason people begin to doubt is because we forget to show them Jesus. When you are encountering Jesus in so many ways, trusting in Him for all sorts of things in all sorts of ways, then your faith can do nothing except grow. We need to show our brothers and sisters how He is working in our lives. We have to know who He is. We have to trust Him. We have to have faith in His truthfulness. You’ve met Him. Does the God whom you have met match up with what the Bible says about Him? If it does, then you need to accept the rest of what it says as true also… and the rest of what it says will let you get to know Him even more!
How do I know if my faith is real? How do I know if I am saved? You know what? I have no idea. But I know, I know, that I have chosen to believe in a God who loves me. I have chosen to put my trust in a God who went to a lot of trouble to meet me. A lot of trouble to create me. A lot of trouble to save me from myself. I know because I have met Him. I know because I believe the truth of what He tells me about Himself in the Bible… let me tell you what I believe:
I believe in the impossible, because I have seen it.
I believe in God, because He IS.
… And even when I do not believe, He is still my God.
My God is gracious and compassionate.
My God is slow to anger, and swift to bless.
My God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
My God is perfect, and perfectly just.
My God is Love.
I believe in His goodness.
I have no assurance of heaven - I know that I am too broken to deserve it…
But I follow Him anyway, because He is all that I am not, and all that I want to be.
I do all I can do, and then trust Him to do the rest, because of who He is.
If, on the Day, He decides that I should burn, then I accept that, because it is just.
If that is the case, then I’ll be in the front row of Hell, praising God for giving me exactly what I deserve.
If He decides otherwise, because of who He is, then that is my gain.
It all relies on Him, and there is nothing else.
But even if I gain nothing, still I will serve my God, simply because He is God.
I can’t say who gets in and who gets left - that’s not my place.
Everyone must make his or her own choices...
…And then God will make His, in accordance with who He is.
Satan said 'I will not serve', but Michael said 'There is none like Him.'
I would rather be on the side of the angels. Who will you serve?
I can't see the future.
I can't know the reasons.
But I do know Who I serve and why, and it isn't for reward, or to escape punishment, but simply because...
He is God.
There is none other.
And even though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.
People say that I know a lot of stuff. I don’t really. I don’t know anything at all that can be conclusively proved, except one thing. God loves you. He loves you, and He loves you, and He loves you, and God help me, He even loves me. This is the one thing that I know. How can I be sure of my faith? You’re asking the wrong guy. I have no idea. But I know what I know, and I know that Jesus loves me. I know because He says so, and I believe it when He says so because in my personal experience, He has never, ever, let me down yet. I know, because I can look at the way He is changing my character to be more like His, even though there is still a very long way still to go, and like the wind in the trees, I can trust in His presence because I see the effects.
Talk to Him – He promises to listen… even if you can’t feel His presence. Ask Him – He promises to answer… even if I can’t guarantee that you’ll like the answer He gives. Look for Him – He promises you will find Him… even if it turns out to be in a place and in a way that you were not expecting. The irony of faith is, in order to know whether you can trust someone, you first have to trust them with something. It’s the same with God – in order to trust in Him, first you have to trust Him. Start small if you have to, and then work up… the walk of faith is made one step at a time.
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