This is Part 3 in a series about the nature of faith. Part one dealt with what faith is and how we do our part of faith. Part two discussed God’s part in faith and the nature of doubt. This post concludes the series.
E. Why People Lose Their Faith
When we began this sermon I said that I would define faith, and that once I had defined it it would have three effects on you. First, I said that you would know what faith is so that you can do it. Faith, you now know, is saying “Yes, I believe” to God, placing your trust on the reality of Jesus Christ. You now know what you are supposed to do with faith; choose to believe. Second, I said that you would know what to do when faith was tested. And you know now that when your faith is tested the thing you need more than anything else is a community of faith around you. So many people enter into a test of faith and think, “I just want to figure things out on my own for a while.” And I just want to say to them, “Good luck with that; let me know when you get tired of being lost, alone, and unable to find your way out.” Faith never occurs in a vacuum. The third thing I said was that, knowing what faith is, you will have an answer for people who say, “I’ve lost my faith.” Let’s take a few minutes to discuss this phrase for a moment.
We’ve already pointed out that faith is not a feeling. And yet many people who say they’ve lost their faith only mean, “I’m not feeling it like I used to.” Having made their faith dependent on feelings, their faith is as fickle as their feelings. They need to learn what faith is first. They need to learn that belief is more than a matter of feeling a certain way. Other people say they’ve lost their faith because they’ve accepted the false vision of faith pressed upon us by our hostile world. They begin to learn about the universe, about science, and conclude that faith is impossible, or ridiculous, or both. But clearly the scientific vision of faith is a caricature. They don’t need the kind of faith that science ridicules; they need real faith in the God who stepped into history personally.
Some people genuinely begin to doubt the claims of Christianity but do this forgetting that it is the nature of faith to be tested. They begin to wonder if what we preach is true. But if you have accepted Christ and received the Spirit, you must cling to the Spirit and His influence more than your doubts. The Spirit is your flashlight when doubt’s darkness descends. Don’t forget to turn it on and use it! Faith, remember, is the concert of human and divine wills—don’t let your fickle human will be the only power you access, but turn to the Spirit. A life of faith, after all, is a life where you are trusting in God each and every day, hour, and moment. It is, in the most profound sense imaginable, a spiritual life.
All that said, I think there are three simple reasons why people walk away from the Christian faith. First, a person loses faith when they lose focus on Christ. When they turn their eyes to other things—sin, desire, passions, a girlfriend or boyfriend, a job. When Christ becomes secondary, faith fades. Second, a person loses faith when they step away from the Church. I have already pointed out the necessity of Church for faith. You cannot do this faith thing alone. You are not meant to. But if you run off on your own your faith has about as much chance of surviving as a naked man without water in the middle of the Sahara. In other words, zero. When someone says, “I’m losing my faith” there’s a good bet they’ve stopped being part of the church. Third and finally, people lose faith when they compromise on their commitment to doctrine. This is the least popular reason for losing faith today, but it is one of the subtlest and most pervasive. When we lose our commitment to doctrine it means is that we are choosing our own faith over the faith revealed to us. We are no longer accepting God’s revelation, but trying to bargain our way into a faith that we feel is more comfortable, less demanding, and perhaps more popular. Compromise on truth, however, and faith will fade as well. The Spirit who makes your faith live will not tolerate your willful rebellion against His ways.
Faith, then, is not a feeling, but a believing—a placing of our trust—in the revealed and real history of God, speaking for Himself in Jesus Christ. It is the combination of Divine Gift and Human Belief, aided and maintained by the Spirit of God. It is tested because God does not compel but desires us to freely choose Him. And it is lost when we deviate from Christ, the Church, or Doctrine. This, Church, is our faith.
Three Response Questions:
1. How does this change your understanding of faith?
2. How does this change your understanding of doubt?
3. If a friend came up to you and said, “I’m losing my faith.” What would you say in response?