Faith Enough?

If questioned, many people would agree that Heaven is real.  Many of those would also agree that they believe that Jesus is their Savior and that we are saved by faith not by works.

A problem can exist in our understanding of what “faith” is?  Is “faith” synonymous with “trust” or “confidence”.  If so, how much “faith” is enough?  There is a reason why God takes into His hands almost every element of our salvation.  If we are left in charge, we mess it up.

I’ve been with many faithful people who have become suddenly terrified when they found out that they were in the process of dying.  New things are scary, right?  We don’t practice dying.  Do their doubts and fears constitute a lack of saving faith?

I’ve met many others from non-Lutheran denominations that have participated in many altar calls.   Each time they were convicted that they hadn’t truly believed in the past.  Do they believe enough now?

I would contend that the Bible uses the word “faith” in more than one way.   Sometimes “faith” does mean “trust” or something close to that.  That is where you get the definition-like verse Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.

In the remainder of that chapter, that is what “faith” means.  It can also mean something like “religion”, as in 1 Timothy 4:1, “in later times some will abandon the faith.”  But when Paul says  in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, so that no one can boast”, does “faith” mean either of these?

Remove the church-speak and here is the Bible’s message.  We are saved by what Jesus did.  He lived as a representative of the human race and kept God’s law for us all.  On the cross, He experienced the punishment for sin for us by being forsaken by His Father. Next, Jesus working through the Holy Spirit creates a connection between you and Himself.  This connection is not cognitive.  It is something harder to explain, something deeper.  This is what Ephesians 2:8 is calling “faith”.  This connection can only be made by God.  It is “not of yourself”.  It is a “gift of God”.  So when Paul says you are saved through “faith” and James says, “what good is it..if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds”, they are not creating a dichotomy between what you think versus what you do; they are showing the difference between what God does and the proof that God has done it.  Follow me?

You are saved by what God has done for you.  Jesus is the cause.  Being saved produces certain signs, at least usually.  Confidence and trust are signs.  Good deeds are signs.  These are the effects of being saved by God.  Effects are nice.  They build confidence.  They give a good witness.  But they do not save you.  Jesus saves you. So if you are facing death and you have fears or are a little uncertain, this does not mean you don’t have faith enough to be saved.  Less than stellar proof of being connected to Jesus has many causes:  mental health, our sinful nature, blood sugar level, intelligence or lack thereof and more.  If you beleive the Gospel, live like you do.  God knows who are His.  Your certainty must come not from whether you have faith enough but rather on Jesus being enough.

Fearing Death

As a pastor, I have been around death more than the average person.  The experience can vary considerably, but it is never pretty.  Our physical death is part of the wages of sin.  Theoretically, it is something that should never happen, but because of sin it is something that always happens.

Our bodies are geared up to fight in order to continue living.  Consequently,  we often struggle those last few hours.  For many it is most visible in belabored breathing.  I would hate to drown, so struggling to breath is not something I covet. My mother had a dying process that took several days.  I was there for the last three. In the midst of this process, she awoke from a semi-comatose state and said, “I haven’t done anything wrong.”  I asked what she meant.  She was confused as to why death took so long.  She thought maybe she was being punished.

Fear of the process is not the only thing.  In fact, the process is a minor thing.  Morphine can get you through that.  Fear of what is next is the major thing.  Everyone has some angst over the unknown.  We only die once so we can’t claim direct experience.  That is where the promises of God and the description of eternal life come in.  A strong faith can make you fearless.  God is trustworthy and Jesus is the cause of our salvation, so we can simply let go without fear that we need to do something.  That kind of faith takes some time to develop, however.  Most people are a little scared, and that is OK.  Saving faith is not the same thing as absolute, fearless confidence.  Saving faith is a connection that God alone can make between you and Jesus.  It is spiritual, not intellectual or emotional.  Saving faith can produce an intellectual trust that makes you strong through the process of death.  It is a great witness and a source of joy, but not a prerequisite to being saved.

If you have somebody who is dying and they are a baptized child of God and still they are afraid of death, talk to them about Heaven, remind them about Jesus, and assure them that not only will Jesus see them through the process of death, so will you.  I talk about Heaven the same way I would talk about a pending vacation of a lifetime.  It’s exciting.  It is–like no other experience.  There comes a time to stop talking about recovery and to stop holding on to this life.  Let a person know that things will be fine for the survivors.  Give them permission to leave.  And get them exciting about where they are going.

I’ve seen some of my own parishioners go from “wide-eyed scared” to at peace and happy.  They should be.  Thanks to Jesus we all can be.