Is Your Faith Growing or Dying?

It has been said that when you stop growing you start dying. This principle is probably true in many different ways. It certainly seems to be true biologically and many of us as we consider what we are able to do in our older years compared to what we could do when we were younger can certainly testify to the credibility of the statement. It is also true in the business world and in the work of churches. A business or a church that is not growing is a business or a church that will die. It seems to this writer that one of the more positive things about Christianity is that it is a dynamic evangelistic growing faith that not only brings new people into the fold of Jesus Christ but also encourages, and in fact demands, a growth in a spiritually mature activity of those who are a part of it. Numerous places in the Bible, such as in Hebrews 5:12-14, we are told that we should not be content with the milk of the Gospel, but should move on to the meat. The concept is that a person cannot be in an inert situation as far as their faith is concerned and regardless of our age or maturity in the faith we should be growing and learning and finding out new things about God, about the Church, and about our abilities to serve a lost and dying world.

The principle that we should be growing and that if we are not we will be dying is also very true of our faith. A person who does not constantly nurture their faith and provide it with a means of growth and maturity is a person whose faith will begin to die. The cares and problems of the world, the attacks of secularism and immorality and the constant grind of temptation upon our own personal needs and wants can tear us down unless there is a constant newness to our faith. The purpose of this article is to describe some ways in which each of us individually can strengthen and nurture our faith regardless of whether we are a preacher or a person who has just become a Christian and is floundering with the newness of faith and the disabilities of warding off the challenges of life in the 20th Century. Let us suggest some things that each of us can do:

1. Hearing totally and open-mindedly the Word of God (Romans 10:17). What is assumed in the statement of this passage? The passage certainly is not intended to suggest that our purpose in hearing the Gospel should be a reinforcement of already held positions. An incredible percentage of people in religion and in the world at large listen only to the presentation of things that they already believe. Whatever issue one wishes to talk about, one cannot have confidence about the* position on that issue if the only position they have ever heard presented is the one to which they currently subscribe. Hearing a different vantage point on a position will do one of two things. It will either motivate us to realize that there is a possibility that our position on the issue in the past has been erroneous or it will convince us that our position has been correct and strengthen our resolve on the issue at hand. The assertion that to hear only one side of an issue makes one strong on that issue is erroneous, because one gets bored and begins to die when one is not introduced with the stimulus to grow.

One of the reasons that there has been so much stagnation in the Church in the area of Christian Evidences has been the fact the cherished traditions and positions have been held without an examination of whether those positions might, in fact, be erroneous. As a result of this, parents, Bible school teachers and sometimes even preachers have not been able to meet the questions of young people as they are challenged by the things they come in contact with through the media and through their public school education. One needs to know what the opposing positions are on an issue in order to know whether the issue is being answered satisfactorily by the congregation's leadership, by a parent, by a Bible school teacher, or by your own understanding of the Bible. One of the reasons that so many young people leave the Church is the fact that they have never been confronted with different perspectives on the creation, evolution, and related issues. The only presentations they have heard and the only evidence they have seen are those that have been very carefully controlled by the people who have instructed them. When they see a variety of different positions to which they have never been exposed and they realize that they are unable to answer the questions raised by these positions from their own training and ability, there is a general tendency to assume that the positions they have held to in the past are erroneous. We build our faith by understanding the different perspectives on an issue and realizing that the belief to which we hold is able to more logically and more reasonably answer the questions of the data than the opposing points of view. This is a great way of building faith. In many of the writings in the letters of the New Testament, you will notice in the teachings of Jesus that not only are the instructions given as to what people should do, but statements are made as to the alternatives that are available to each person in each of these areas. This is a great road to faith and can serve us well in the building of our resolve to be more effective in God's service.

2. Examine the evidence in the creation (Romans 1: 19-22).
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood By the things that arc made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they new God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,....

Numerous places in the Bible we are told we can build our faith by examining the creation. For we are told the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmaments sheweth his handiwork (Psalms 19:1) and also that we are to consider the creation and ask, "Who created all this?" (Isaiah 40:26). We are challenged to continue to look at the creation and to realize the handiwork of God that is all around us. There has been a terrible lack of consistency in the Church and in Christian homes in encouraging children to look for the beauty in nature. Many of us as adults have allowed ourselves to become obsessed with the tragedy, the ugliness, and the problems of the world and ignore the great beauty and functionability that is all around us. We need to consistently look for the wisdom and the beauty that is in nature. We need to make sure our diet of evidences is consistent, regular and balanced. Just as our physical bodies cannot tolerate sporadic additions of basic nutrients neither can our faith survive, grow and be strong unless the diet is regular and consistent. The purpose of our Dandy Designs column in this publication and of the various tapes and videos that we have in our loan program is to encourage people to constantly fill their minds with the evidence that God is in control and that the universe is beautifully and wonderfully constructed.

 3. See the wisdom of the plan given in the Bible. (I Corinthians 2:2-8). When one looks at the wisdom of the biblical commands as to how people should conduct their lives and compares it to the wisdom of men one can see the tremendous strength of biblical teachings. All around us we see humans attempting to construct their own lifestyles and ending up in total disaster because of the plans that they have formulated. This is seen in religious leaders who move away from the biblical teaching and attempt to construct their own modification of God's Word and it is also seen in the writings of attempts of atheists to put together a workable system. The following excerpt is a story from Larry West that tells of an atheist community that was attempted in the last century.

 It Was A Town Without God

Years ago, a group of atheists decided to show the world what a fine civilization could be had if only the--and this is the way they put it--the "superstitions of Christianity" were outlawed. They founded the little town of Liberal, Missouri. They boastfully advertised it as the only town of its size in the United States that didn't have a preacher, a priest, a church, that didn't have God, Jesus Christ, hell or the devil. The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, a few months later, carried a lengthy article about the little town. It showed that, as a matter of fact, there was little else in the town except the devil. Its hotels had become houses of prostitution. Gambling, stealing, killing--it was all the standard conduct for the town. The newspaper article was so frightful that the men of Liberal had Clark Braden, the author of the story, arrested for criminal libel. They also sued the Post-Dispatch for $25,000. In the trial, though, the evidence was so overwhelming that the jury took only a few minutes to render a verdict--in favor of the defendant. The suit was dismissed and the town of Liberal, Missouri, had to pay all court costs. It wasn't long after that before even life-long atheists themselves left the town in absolute disgust. In fact, one of them confessed: "An infidel surrounded by Christians may spout his infidelity and be able to stand it, but," he said, "a town of atheists is too horrible to contemplate."

There are some among us who want God out of schools. Bible reading is totally unthinkable, the cry is, "Keep religion out of politics," and yet we expect to keep all the benefits of a God-blessed community. God in the heart of a community, whether it be a family or a whole nation, is the groundwork for its being a moral and safe place to live.

A Jewish gentleman not long ago stood up in a group and told of his own experience. He said, "A few years ago my bank sent me to make some studies of a place in Puerto Rico. It was the worst, the dirtiest city imaginable. It was a real hell." These are his words. Then he said, "Two years ago I went back to the same city. It was entirely new. The change was unbelievable. The houses, the streets were all so perfectly clean. The taverns had gone out of existence. What had happened? Did they elect a new mayor? Was the place educated by new educators? No." He said, "A Christian missionary had come to work among them. He taught them Jesus Christ. I saw with my own eyes," he said, "what Christ can do in just a short time."

The Bible makes practical differences in people's lives. Shakey marriages are stabilized. Drunken lives are sobered. Whole communities are changed for the good. And you know? It changes whole communities only because it changes individuals. 

by Larry West, West Monroe, LA.

This story has been repeated many times and is an interesting demonstration of the foolishness of men, and the unworkability of the things that humans suggest as the way to achieve success in life. In our own day and time we have seen a spread of AIDS and other venereal diseases by a refusal to follow God's plan of life. Many people have experienced tragedies in their marriages and in other aspects of their life because they have incorporated and founded their marriages and homes on premises alien to what the Bible teaches.

We not only can see the wisdom of God in the practical applications of life we can also see it in the values that we place upon things in our lives. Value education in the public school has been pretty much a fiasco because of the attempts to emphasis things that have no substance. Emphasizing human institutions to the neglect of the real Church has always ended in catastrophe. Emphasizing the individual selfish rights to the neglect of God's plan for the family has been catastrophic. Planning emphasis upon money and things as opposed to meaningful associations and relationships in life has brought misery and unhappiness to untold numbers of people. Constructing worship activities for entertainment as opposed to real worship has turned religion into a spectator sport that has no real meaning or emphasis in the lives of many people. A failure to emphasize the purpose that God had in creating man has resulted in an inability to understand problems and difficulties in life and placing an emphasize upon individual rights and selfish objectives rather than dealing with how people should really treat one another has resulted in exploitation and abuse at all levels of our society. The wisdom of the Bible in these areas is so clear and so precise that if we continue to examine it we can see the great strength and the great wisdom of God and build and encourage our faith.

4. Be consistent in the logic of your evaluations. It is interesting to notice that throughout the Bible there is a continual emphasis upon reasoning and thinking. Numerous times we read that Paul reasoned with people in the synagogue. Jesus constantly encouraged people to think and to be consistent in the way they lived their lives. The Bible is replete with passages that tell us that we can accomplish our spiritual goals in life if we will be consistent in reaching out to them. Passages like Philippians 2:12, where we are told to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, clearly indicate the necessity of people applying themselves to the goals that God has given us spiritually.

One of the great tragedies of the 20th Century has been that people do not use the same kind of logic in making decisions about their relationship to God that they do in all of their activities in the world. There is a tendency to demand far more proof and far more perfection in the Church than one expects in their job, at school, or other areas of their lives. Evidences that would have been totally acceptable for investing one's money or in making a business decision is rejected because it is considered not absolute in responding to the commands that God has given us in his word. Looking at life's experiences in a realistic way rather than expecting a Pollyanna kind of existence has also resulted in a great deal of misery for many people. Not being willing to consider the weight of the evidence but demanding absolute proof in an area that is very similar to other aspects of our life where absolute proof is not required has weakened the faith of many individuals. Obviously, people might disagree on what is reasonable and consistent evidence. The fact of the matter is however, that there is so much scientific evidence for the existence of God, for Jesus being the Son of God, and for the Bible being God's Word that a person can know with as much confidence as they can know anything in their lives that these principles are true. Double standards have weakened the faith of many people and consistency in weighing the evidence is essential to the building of our faith.

When one studies the heroes of faith of the Old Testament such as Abraham, one does not see instantaneous faith as a part of their makeup. Abraham was willing to tell half-truths about his wife many times because he did not have the kind of faith that he needed to believe that God would fulfill his promises and sustain him in his journeys. Throughout his life however, Abraham grew and as he continued to look at the evidence that God had provided to him and the things that had happened in his life, both good and bad, he was ultimately able to become the giant of faith described in the book of Hebrews. You and I will not arrive at great faith overnight but our faith can and must grow. If we will apply the tools God has given us and look logically and consistently at the evidence that he has placed in our hands we can grow into believing, active, dynamic Christians who can make a difference in the world in which we live, and bring the love of Christ and the peace that passeth all understanding to a world that is struggling with inconsistency, disbelief, and lack of direction. Build your faith and nurture it that it may grow and sustain you throughout the years of your life. 

--John N. Clayton

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