STUDY NINE: A CALL TO RADICAL FAITH [Matthew 6:25-34]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012

Jesus calls us to a radical faith. In all that we have learned so far in terms of the call to a new identity, a new ethic and new values, the underlying call is Christ’s call to a radical faith.

In calling us to a radical faith Jesus is calling us back to the original faith relationship with himself for which he created us in the first place. It is a relationship in which we trust him absolutely and trust in ourselves not at all; it is a relationship in which he is our God – not us; it is a relationship in which we depend entirely upon him, and do not seek to be independent from him.

Karl Barth had a very acute and perceptive understanding of the meaning of this faith to which Jesus calls us [emphasis added]:

‘… by my believing I see myself completely filled and determined by this object of my faith. And what interests me is not myself with my faith, by He in whom I believe.’

‘… faith means trust. Trust is the act in which a man may rely on the faithfulness of Another, that His promise holds and that what He demands He demands of necessity. “I believe” means “I trust”. No more must I dream of trusting in myself, I no longer require to justify myself, to excuse myself, to attempt to save and preserve myself. This most profound effort of man to trust in himself, to see himself as in the right, has become pointless. I believe – not in myself – I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.’

‘We are given the freedom to trust in Him who deserves our trust: freedom by holding to Him who in distinction from all other authorities is and will remain faithful. We ourselves shall never be true to ourselves. Our human path is, as such, a path from one disloyalty to another; and it is the same with the ways of the gods of this world. They do not keep what they promise. … In God alone is there faithfulness, and faith is the trust that we may hold to Him, to His promise and to His guidance. To hold to God is to rely on the fact that God is there for me, and to live in this certainty. This is the promise God gives us: I am there for you.’

‘Because God is for us, we may also be for Him. Because He has given Himself to us, we may also in gratitude give Him the trifle which we have to give. To hold to God thus always means that we receive everything wholly from God and so are wholly active for Him.’

‘The greatest hindrance to faith is again and again just the pride and anxiety of our human hearts. We would rather not live by grace. Something within us energetically rebels against it. We do not wish to receive grace; at best we prefer to give ourselves grace. This swing to and fro between pride and anxiety is man’s life. Faith bursts through them both.’

‘Faith means a final relationship. Faith is concerned with God, with what He has done for us once for all. That does not exclude the fact that there are fluctuations in faith. But seen with regard to its object, faith is a final thing. A man who believes once believes once for all.’

‘… faith is concerned with our holding to God exclusively, because God is the One who is faithful. … To believe is the freedom to trust in Him quite alone, sola gratia and sola fide.’ [by grace alone, by faith alone.]

‘Faith is not concerned with a special realm, that of religion, say, but with real life in its totality, the outward as well as the inward questions, that which is bodily as well as that which is spiritual, the brightness as well as the gloom in our life. Faith is concerned with … the whole of living and the whole of dying. The freedom to have this trust … is faith.’  [pp 16 – 21, Dogmatics in Outline]

 ‘Faith’ is depending solely on God.

The kind of faith that Jesus talks about is the prerequisite for following him in the three areas that we have studied in the Sermon on the Mount:

• Exclusive dependence on God is needed to accept and live out the radical identity he describes
• Exclusive dependence on God is needed to understand, take on board and obey his radical ethic
• Exclusive dependence on God is needed to put aside our human desire for praise and merit and to live with the radical values defined by Jesus.

What is this faith, that is so contrary to our human way of thinking, that it is, humanly speaking, an impossibility?  It is faith that so trusts in God that it no longer desires to trust in itself. It is faith that so trusts in God that it is set free forever from the heavy necessity of trusting in itself. Its goal, its focus, is God himself.

 

A. RADICAL FAITH EXPRESSES ITSELF BY DEPENDENCE ON GOD FOR PHYSICAL NEEDS AND FOR THE A RIGHT PERSPECTIVE ON PHYSICAL REALITIES

In the previous three studies we saw that the faith to which Jesus calls us depends wholly on God in spiritual matters, putting aside the perceptions of the world, and trusting his perspective alone. Now Jesus calls us to depend wholly on God and to embrace God’s perspective in physical matters also.

Reflection: What do these verses teach us about our dependence on God and the nature of faith

6:25

6:33

 

 

 

6:26

6:30

 

 

 

6:27

 

 

 

 

6:26,

28-32

 

 

 

6:34

 

 

 

 

Jesus calls us beyond worry and anxiety to trust in the area of physical needs. His reasoning is simple:

Line of reasoning #1:

• Life is more important than food. Our body is more important than clothes.
• The birds do no planned work at all, yet God feeds them.
• God is your heavenly Father.
• You are more valuable to him that the birds.
• No one can add a single hour to his life by worrying.

The faith perspectives:
[1] The spiritual dimension of life [our relationship with God] is more important than the physical dimension.
[2] God, our heavenly Father, values us.

Line of reasoning #2:

• The lilies of the field don’t do organized work.
• They are even more beautiful that Solomon in his glory.
• And they are very, very transient – here today, gone tomorrow.
• Don’t you think that God is more willing to clothe you?

The faith perspectives:
[3] We humans, in whose hearts God has put eternity, can be confident of God’s willingness to care for us.

Line of reasoning #3:

• Given the truth of the above, don’t worry about what you are going to eat, drink or wear.
• That’s what the pagans, who don’t know God, run around worrying about.
• Your father in heaven knows you need these physical things.
• Your job is to make his kingdom and his righteousness your priority.
• God will make sure you get the physical things.
• So, don’t worry about tomorrow.
• Focus on today.

The faith perspectives:
[4] We who know God should also trust him
[5] His kingdom and his righteousness should be our priority.

The perspectives of faith are not a validation of idleness and laziness. There are other Scriptures that speak against irresponsibility and approve a strong work ethic. The perspective of faith Jesus teaches here is that of a trust in the Fatherly goodness of God that overrules our human tendency to anxiety. Anxiety, Jesus says, is for the pagans who have no knowledge of the One who is not only the one true God who is ‘heavenly’ - the sovereign Lord of all, but who is also ‘our Father’ – a God of infinite love and compassion.

 

B. THE NATURE AND FOCUS OF RADICAL FAITH

From the rest of Scripture we learn that the core meaning of Biblical faith is that we trust in God – not in ourselves, not in substitute ‘gods’ that we have created with our hands or our hearts, not in occult powers. In the New Testament, because Jesus came and precisely revealed God to us, the focus of faith is Christ himself. True faith, the faith that counts, is faith that believes that Jesus Christ is the One he claimed to be. This believing in Jesus is no superficial ‘I believe in Jesus’ that then goes on and lives life as though Jesus was not the Lord; it is a faith that acknowledges that Jesus Christ is Lord by submitting not only to his promises but also to his commands. The Bible affirms no other type of ‘faith’.

Reflection: In John 8:24 Jesus said: ‘If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be you will indeed die in your sins.’ Read the records of the faith of individuals below. Describe the nature and the integrity of their faith. What makes their faith real? How was that faith confirmed? What lessons can we learn?

The centurion – Matthew 8:5-13

The Canaanite woman – Matthew 15:21-28

 

 

 

 

  

 

Peter – Matthew 16:13-20

Martha – John 11:23-27

 

  

 

 

 

 

 The whole of the Scripture is a call to genuine faith. From the first prohibition in Genesis 2:17 God has been saying: ‘Believe!’ – Trust me. Believe me. Depend on me and my word. Let the whole of your life – your thoughts, your attitude, your words, your actions – acknowledge that I am God. It is only in this responsive, dependent relationship with him that we can be what he created us to be, that we can fulfil our purpose and our destiny as ‘human’, that we can be complete, for only in this responsive, dependent, trusting relationship can we reflect his glory, can we bear his image.

Reflection: Discuss these verses, and from their positive and negative descriptions, describe the mindset and the lifestyle of true faith in one brief sentence for each text.

Matthew 7:21

 

 

John 8:31

 

 

John 10:27

 

 

John 12:47-50

 

 

John 14:15

 

 

John 15:10

 

 

Romans 1:5

 

 

1 Thessalonians 1:3

 

 

James 2:18-20

 

 

 

C. COMPARISON WITH CONTEMPORARY CONCEPTS

We live in a society that has rejected the absolute God revealed in the Bible. ‘Faith’ if talked about at all does not mean the kind of faith that we have been studying. In the table below you are asked to compare and contrast genuine Biblical faith with the mindsets of both contemporary society and contemporary Christianity. Sadly, much contemporary Christianity seems to have lost touch with true faith and embraced a level of faith that displays the identity, ethic and values of the world rather than the radical identity, ethic and values that Christ has outlined in the Sermon on the Mount.

Reflection and response: Contrast the mindsets identified below with the call to radical faith in Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5 and 6

CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY

POPULAR CHRISTIANITY

Multiculturalism and ‘the new tolerance’ – every belief system is equally valid, because all belief systems are just human ideas. Therefore we should affirm and support everyone in their belief systems.

Rejection of the finality of the written word – belief that God is still giving revelation of himself that is equally valid and authoritative with the written Scriptures

Materialism/secularism – in which possessions rule: success is measured by one’s wealth; life is centred around the physical. This includes taking one’s significance and identity from such things as beauty, brawn, brains, bank balance, body, babies

Prosperity [health and wealth] teaching – in which God’s blessings are seen as physical and one’s level of spirituality measured by one’s health and wealth. This includes the ‘name it and claim it’ teaching which demands stuff from God as one’s right.

Hedonism – the pursuit of pleasure as the ultimate good – if something feels good, do it; if it makes you feel good, it is right. The experience of well-being or getting a ‘buzz’ is the criteria by which one assesses everything.

Hedonism within the church – experience, instead of the Bible, becomes the criteria for assessing the validity of any belief or practice. Churches are chosen if they make you feel good, rejected if they don’t.

‘Believe in yourself’ - our society constantly gives significance to our self-image and our self-worth, exhorting us to believe in ourselves. In a similar vein New Age ideas encourage us to find the ‘god within’.

‘Faith in faith’ – within the Christian church we find teachers whose emphasis is not on the power of the God in whom we believe, but in the act and power of faith; faith, that is, ‘positive confession’, itself becomes the important thing whose power is needed to release God to respond to our prayer.