My Facebook feed is littered with quizzes you can take to determine various levels of expertise, like…
How much do you love your dog?
How big of a fan of Star Wars are you?
How many of the state capitols can you name?
Most of those are pretty benign, right? But periodically, there are quizzes that by comparison go a bit deeper. These quizzes ask us to answer questions about ourselves and what we believe about politics, family, and even faith. They try to convince us that we can gauge things that are less quantifiable. Some of them even attempt to quantify one of the biggest questions in our lives:
How much of a Christian are you?
While the question itself is a bit artificial, it’s one that’s been bandied about by Christians and churches for years. Membership, baptism, church denomination, etc. All of these are marks various people have used to try to determine their “faith quantity.”
Some of you have even heard the question, “if you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Somehow, I’m not sure that’s God’s evaluation of faith works.
All of the Fruits of the Spirit are about faith, but Paul lists faithfulness as one of the specific fruits that disciples of Jesus should exhibit. While that might seem obvious, when it’s put in a list with love, joy, peace, and others, it becomes clear that disciples aren’t necessarily automatically faithful.
If we look at their track record, we can see that, as the closest friends of Jesus fall asleep during the hours he needs them to be praying – and his best friend abandons him as he’s being condemned to die. Disciples aren’t automatically faithful, but their faithfulness grows over time as they practice it.
Sometimes, it just depends on where you’re looking for faith.
The temporary Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn’t quite remember it.
Finally, she went to the pastor’s study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial.
After the first two numbers, he paused and stared blankly for a moment.
Finally, he looked serenely heavenward and his lips moved silently.
Then he looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock.
The teacher was amazed. “I’m in awe at your faith, pastor,” she said.
“It’s really nothing,” he answered. “The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling.”
Now, while this might be a funny aside about the nature of faith, it’s clear to me that everyone has faith in something.
Science. Technology. Philosophy. Love. Relationships. Family. Even God.
One of my favorite scenes to describe faith is Indiana Jones’ threefold quest to find the Holy Grail in The Last Crusade. He’s told that he must make a leap from the lion’s mouth as a clue, and when he arrives atop a stone lion, it’s at the edge of a great chasm. Across the chasm, he can see the opening in the rock to the path he is on.
But there is nothing he can see across the chasm that would keep him from falling.
Still, knowing what is at stake, he steps off the stone lion’s head… and finds himself on a bridge camouflaged perfectly to the stone around him. Where he thought there was nothing, a bridge to safety emerged. He never would have found it if he hadn’t taken that leap of faith.
Pretty cool analogy, right? Of course it is. But even more than illustrations, I love the stories of those in the Bible who moved forward in faith to follow the will of God. Real people, with real struggles, like you and me. But the people in the Bible who were proven to be the most faithful were those who were consistent in the small things – and the big things. When they received a test of their faith, they responded correctly – even if it wasn’t always on the first time.
For one, I am simply in awe of Abraham. So was the author of Hebrews.
Consider these verses from Hebrews 11: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
Abraham was called to leave his father’s land and go somewhere he’d never been. Think about that for a moment. Where would you go sight unseen? Who would you go there for? In Abraham’s case, it was the voice in the night – a God who he had yet to completely understand or know who told him to move. And so Abraham did.
Abraham was called to believe that there was one God, not many, and that this God would be with him wherever he went. While we accept that God is with us, that Jesus lives in our hearts, in Abraham’s day, gods were understood to be localized in specific places. And yet Abraham came to understand that God was with him wherever he went.
Abraham was called to be the father of many nations – even though he had no sons at the time. Growing older without sons, he deviated from God’s best plan, taking his wife’s concubine to provide him with a son but he remained faithful that God would provide.
Abraham was called by God to surrender his son over to certain death as a sacrifice, and he went forward with the instructions he was given by God. While he was in the moment of his greatest act of faithfulness, God provided him another way.
In every moment, both the successes and failures of his life, Abraham found that God was faithful to what God had promised. It made Abraham’s faith more powerful because it proved that God was with him – and that God was faithful.
While Abraham may be the most explicit, most direct, example of faithfulness, the people in the Bible who shared their faithfulness with others were people who first believed that God was faithful.
Noah built an ark when there was no rain.
David believed he was called by God to be the king even though another king was already in place.
Daniel walked into the lion’s den because he refused to stop praying the most high God.
Simeon and Anna waited forever for the Messiah to be born, even as they grew old.
The widow put her last money into the offering at the Temple even though there was no guarantee she would ever receive more resources.
No matter what apparent craziness God called them to, the faithful of God always believed – and moved forward. It took time, patience, and stickwithitness- but they proved themselves faithful by practicing their ability to follow.
Jesus knew this was a lesson that his disciples needed. He shared stories of faith with them – and examples of faithfulness in his own actions. They were not always the faithfulness that others expected, as he often alienated the Pharisees by reinforcing that real faithfulness matched up with the heart of God, not a list of arbitrary rules. But Jesus always asked his disciples what they were doing – and if they were growing into the people God was calling them to be.
One example of this was his Parable of the Talents, where a ruler or owner gave three servants varying levels of gifts. He told them to use them as they saw fit. One buried his, and the other two invested theirs. Jesus’ parable said that the faithful ones were those who used their talents, who engaged in what their master was doing. Not everyone chooses to be faithful participants, Jesus seems to be saying, but those who do are rewarded with the growth of their responsibility and purpose.
It doesn’t what or how much responsibility these people were given, but their faithfulness showed their love for God. Whether they were given little or much, their faithfulness with what they had proved their faith.
I don’t know about you, but I want my purpose to matter. I want to be under the full spigot of God’s grace so that it washes over me – and allows me to be a conduit of it for others. But I have to be faithful if I want to live and apply my life in a way that pleases God.
That leads me to this question today: what is God calling you to be faithful about? Is he calling you to move or to stay? Is he calling you to embrace the new or revitalize the old? Is he using his call to strengthen your relationship or to make you a symbol for others?
When Abraham left his father’s tents, he had been told that he would be the father of nations, that his family would be a blessing to others. He had to wait many years until he saw the faithfulness of God fully come to fruition, but he pursued the path to which he’d been called even though he couldn’t see the bridge to safety.
God is always faithful, but when it comes to the Fruits of the Spirit, the only question remains: are you faithful?