Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?óunless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5
Q: What is at the very heart of Christianity?
A: Faith in Jesus Christ.
Q: What does that mean? What is faith? Can anyone get it? I donít like religion. Canít I just be a good person?
My sisters and brothers, I exhort you to be sure about what you believe and why you believe it. Study. Pray. Ask questions. In this time and place, we canít afford to be wishy-washy on this most foundational matter. Please, examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.
Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), who is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So be assured that if you want to believe, you can, and God will be helping you mightily. Be also assured that even a tiny amount of faith is extremely powerful (see the mustard seed passage in Matthew 17 or Luke 17). Okay, are you assured? Good. Now letís get to work.
Do you know precisely what you believe, and why? If faith is misplaced or vague it can cause serious trouble, so the question is important. Misplaced faith, trusting in the wrong thing or person, can lead to immediate harm, as I discovered when I broke my tailbone playing Scrabble. No, it wasnít a mutant game of tackle Scrabble, and no, I wasnít doing a wild celebratory dance after a fifty point bonus. The cause of my excruciating injury was unthinking trust in a chair. Generally, Iíve found itís safe to put my faith in furniture. However, in the infamous Scrabble incident the brand-new chair I was sitting on was not glued together in all the right spots. Consequently, as I pondered the game board my chair collapsed beneath me.
After writhing on the floor, standing with help, putting an H on the triple word score, passing out from pain, and all the further ramifications of knocking loose a sizable chunk of a critical bone, I had time to think through the causes of the disaster. Though I did buy chairs my husband didnít want me to buy, and though I didnít pay attention to a certain ominous wobbliness, the true root of the matter was that I put my faith in something that was not trustworthy. We can see this same principle writ large in Japanís current disaster. Nuclear reactors, though useful and relatively safe most of the time, appear to be not entirely trustworthy. Immediate harm, indeed.
In like manner, misplaced faith can result in eternal harm. Trusting to the goodwill of the universe, adhering to a manmade religion, making up our own rules about what will assure our eternal blissÖthese strategies are doomed to failure more dramatic than any nuclear meltdown. It is of paramount importance to place our faith wiselyÖin Jesus Christ, Son of the Creator God of the Bible.
Vagueness about even that well-placed faith can be deadly, too. It is enough at first to cry, ďI believe! Help my unbelief!Ē But we canít stay there, for four reasons. First, we have to be able to explain the tenets of Christianity in order to share it with others as we are commanded to do. We canít share the gift if we canít describe it.
Second, inability to articulate the basics of Christianity is a warning sign, indicating a lack of time spent studying the Bible and praying for wisdom. No study and no prayer means no growth. If weíre abiding in the Vine, we should be growing. Stunted, dry branches are not fruitful and are liable to be severely pruned (that hurts! Get growing!).
The third concern is that vagueness about what and why we believe leaves us vulnerable to attack. The worldís concerted campaign against Christianity has given us opponents who are aggressive and persuasive. If we canít answer their objections, weíre at risk of having our faith undermined. There are good answers to every rant against God. We have to learn them.
Finally, even if it is, just now, safe and comfy to be a Christian where you and I are living, it will not remain so. If the roots of our faith are shallow, how will we endure persecution when it arrives?
"But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.Ē Matthew 13:20-21
Persecution is coming to your neighborhood, my neighborhood, sooner or later. Many thousands of our brothers and sisters have endured great tribulation in the past, and many thousands suffer today. There is absolutely no reason to expect to be spared from this almost universal Christian experience. God praises those who endure to the end, and do not love their lives in the face of death. The shield of a deep-rooted, thoroughly explored faith is our strongest weapon in the fight to remain faithful to the God who gave Everything for our reconciliation.