Faith...The Battle for Your Heart and Mind
This past weekend I had the distinct displeasure of getting suckered into a "debate" on social media. I usually try to be careful to not allow myself to use social media as a platform to discuss topics such as religion or politics. Quite honestly, I find that those interactions rarely result in anything positive or edifying for anyone involved, and are most often a colossal waste of time. However, I let my guard down and allowed myself to engage with someone who had posted something negative about the Christian faith.
Without going into all of the details, the basic premise of the post was one which framed Christians as gullible morons and equated our faith to belief in the stuff of fairy tales - Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, etc. The reality is, for many outside of the faith, this is the perception of Christians. Anyone who professes faith in God is simply foolish. To be a Christian is to check reason and intellect at the door. This begs the question, is this really the type of people God has called us to be?
Of course I would answer no, and I would point to passages like the one that we studied this week from Acts chapter 19 to refute such critiques of Christians and Christianity. In Acts 19:8-10, Luke writes:
"And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoningand persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks."
Notice the words that Luke uses to describe the type of interaction Paul was having with his listeners. He doesn't say that he was enticing them with stories, bewitching them with wonderous tales, or enthralling them with fables. He didn't appeal to their imagination or their emotions, rather he appealed to their minds. He reasoned with them, and persuaded them to believe his argument as not only plausible, but true.
Reason is defined as "thinking that is coherent and logical." Could this be any further from how Christianity is viewed in our increasingly atheistic culture? Professing faith in God is often, at best, viewed as antiquated and at worst, outright stupidity. God however has never desired for people to follow after him blindly, but rather he desires to engage both our hearts and our minds. We are encouraged, and clearly expected to think critically about what we believe. So why has Christianity gotten such a bad rap?
I think most of the issue lies in the easy-believism that has saturated our faith over the last few decades. Our evangelistic efforts have been aimed largely at the heart, eliciting emotional responses that produce quick "conversions" and large congregations that are a mile wide, but only an inch deep. Sadly, rich theological training that aims to engage the intellect and is rooted in the historical doctrines of the Church has largely gone by the wayside and has been replaced by watered-down Gospel presentations and topical sermons aimed at producing prettier sinners and not believers whose faith rests on a sure and sturdy foundation.
Please don't misunderstand me. All head and no heart can be an equally debilitating approach to producing well-equipped men and women of the faith. However, the pendulum seems to more commonly swing in the other direction. We need churches full of people whose hearts have been penetrated by the Gospel, but have also been properly discipled in the faith and who know, and can articulate, what Christians actually believe, what scripture actually teaches, and why faith in Christ is not only plausible, but actually tenable.
Here's the crux of the matter. No one can be argued into faith from a position of unbelief without a supernatural enlightening of both heart and mind by the power of God, the Holy Spirit. We cannot minimize the vitally important role that the Spirit plays in all of this. Not only is he the one who opens hearts and minds to receive and respond to the Gospel message in faith, but he is vitally important in illuminating the truth of scripture to us so that we can understand and learn what God is revealing to us through his word.
The Doctrines of Grace remind us that in our fallen state, man is so radically disfigured, and our minds so clouded by sin, that we do not possess within ourselves the sheer ability to respond to God favorably as an act of will without first being regenerated by the Spirit. This work of regeneration is a saving act, by grace, according to God's good and perfect will, imparted to those whom he has elected from before the foundation of the world. To put it more succinctly and clearly, scripture teaches us that only those whom God has foreknown can and will receive the Gospel in faith, and because this is an ordination sovereignly administered by God, all those whom have been chosen will respond. This means that Christ knows those that are his, and the Good Shepherd will clearly and definitively separate the sheep from the goats, with no risk of one being confused for the other.
While Christ may know those that are his, our ability to discern one from the other is often lacking. Since I can stand in a room of thirty people and not know who among them falls into which category, the clear inference is that my calling is to share the Gospel indiscriminately with all. Often times this burden for sharing the hope of salvation is perceived as forwarding an agenda or "cramming our beliefs down someone's throat." To such a criticism, the only proper response is perhaps a hearty Amen!
If I believe what the Bible teaches, that apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, all men stand condemned before a Holy and Just God, and the punishment for their transgressions is an eternity in Hell - a reality too horrific to begin to fathom - then my only choice is to provide them with the opportunity to hear the Gospel. It may mean they reject me, and in so doing ultimately reject not me, but God. It may mean that they mock me. It may mean that they avoid me when they see me. However, the greatest act of love I can show them is to continue to try to share my faith with them. The only Christian who is truly a "jerk," is one who doesn't share what he/she believes with others.
We need to share our faith, but in order to share it, we need to know and understand it ourselves. This doesn't mean you need to have a PhD from a top seminary, but it does mean that to be effective in evangelism, you need to crack open your Bible. Furthermore, a Christian who doesn't desire to know God more fully, to hear from him in the pages of Scripture, and to interact with him in prayer is a Christian who may want to, at minimum, reevaluate their conversion. Again, it isn't my place to determine who's a sheep and who's a goat, but scripture describes a genuine believer as one whose life bears the fruit of Gospel faith. Where there is no fruit, it is reasonable to be concerned.
Nowhere in scripture are we told that following Jesus is easy. When we allow ourselves to be lured into thinking differently, we often find ourselves ill-equipped for the reality of what it means to walk in obedience to Christ, and the cost it may require of us. We see this reality play out in the example of the sons of Sceva. They mistook the true power of God for a parlor trick, but when they found themselves face to face with an agent of darkness, they realized how wrong they had been. Wielding the power of the Gospel isn't for the faint of heart. It's not a toy to be played with. It requires both a heart of courage and the knowledge and expertise of one who has been properly trained and equipped to use it effectively.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 43 - Extraordinary Miracles & 7 Sons of Sceva
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. Why are these miracles described as extraordinary?
2. Who are the 7 sons of Sceva and what are they up to?
3. What do these events accomplish for Paul's ministry in Ephesus?
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