You Just Have To Believe – 05.02.2021
[James 2:19-24 and Mark 9:14-29]
Last week, at the end of the sermon I gave an example, talking about buying my wife flowers. It went like this – Let’s say I buy my wife some flowers. I stop by the local place and grab a beautiful bouquet. I get home and I present them to my wife. She feels loved, and she says – thank you so much. And I respond, “no big deal. I just did it because I have to. Husbands are supposed to buy flowers. I didn’t really think about you, it was on my way anyways, they were having a sale and it was just a couple of bucks. I didn’t really care.” Is my wife going to feel loved if this is how I present flowers to her? And yet for so many of us – this is how we live into God’s love. When we believe in earned love, limited love – we present God with the bare minimum, whatever we need to do to keep the ol’ ball and chain happy. But if we reject the heresy of limited love, and experience God’s unconditional saving love, it will change your life.
Now that’s a good word, right? Obedience is a response to love, not a begrudgingly obligation. But here’s the problem, some of you went home and thought – the answer is that you never buy your wife flowers. Right? You can’t earn love, I don’t want to think obedience is forced obligation – so I’ll just keep my feelings in my heart, and my beliefs in my head and carry on with the rest of my life. Seems like a bummer for my wife, but whatever. Nothing we do in this life can earn God’s love. God’s love is for free, and we have access to it through faith in Jesus Christ. That was the core teaching of last week. We are justified by faith alone. But today we have to deal with the other side of the coin. If we use the principle of the pendulum, we are moving away from earning God’s love – and that’s good. But we can take it too far, and we end up way over here with faith that is only in our head. Lazy faith that doesn’t actually affect our lives.
Now every week in this series I have introduced some sort of principle of philosophy or logic to help us think these things through – we’ve talked about bubbles and bootstraps, pendulums. But today I want to introduce you to an idea that I call “completing the picture.” The big idea today is that half of an idea is only half of an idea. It’s not wrong, but it is also not the whole story. When you learn the second half, it doesn’t make the first half wrong – it just completes the picture. Let me explain it like this – I hold up this piece of paper, and I tell you – This paper is red. And you say “no…” But I look at this paper and I see red. What do you see? What color is this paper [let them answer]. You probably see blue. I hope you can see this on the camera. [flip the paper over]. How about now? Now, I say the paper is blue. What color do you say the paper is? [let them answer]. Now some folks will use this little illustration to say that there are two truths, your truth and my truth and we just need to let me have my truth and you have your truth over there. Folks that foolish. There are not two separate truths, we just need to complete the picture. Is this paper red or blue? The answer is, “well it’s red on one side and blue on the other side.” Half an idea is half an idea. It’s not wrong to say it’s red – this side IS red. But that’s only half the story – we have to complete the picture. Sometimes it’s not about one idea being wrong, it’s about completing the picture. Half an idea, even if it’s 100% true, is only half of an idea. We need to complete the picture.
Today is week 3 of our sermon series Homegrown Heresies. Every week in this series we have been looking at common beliefs in the church that are actually against Christianity. Today might be the trickiest sermon in the series. Because the false teaching is not false. It’s not wrong, but it is only half of the story. One side of the coin. Today we are going to look at the teaching “you just have to believe,” which is true – and yet, well let’s see what the scriptures have for us today.
Mark, chapter 9. [read v.14-18]. So Jesus walks up and his followers are arguing about something. And so he asks, “what’s up?” And they explain, this man brought his son to be healed, there’s a spirit that takes ahold of him – it takes a hold of him, throws him on the ground, can’t talk, kinda sounds like a seizure. And the disciples say, “we can’t seem to heal him. And then verse 19 is just this big eye roll of Jesus. Listen to this, [read v.19-22]. So this poor kid has had this condition since childhood, and this spirit is not just hurting him, but also causing him to fall into fire and water and it’s just terrible. And so the guy says, “IF you can do ANYTHING, please help us out.” And I love Jesus’ response, [read v.23]. Jesus sort of looks at this guy and say, “oh honey, there’s no “if you can” with God.” [read v.24] Now that right there is the most important verse in the passage for us this morning, but let me finish the story and we’ll come back to it. [read v.24b-27]. Jesus heals the boy and helps him get up, but let’s go back to that line. I believe, help my unbelief. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever turned to God and said, “I know you’re there, I believe in you – but somedays I have a hard time believing in you. Man, some days God, you feel so far away and I get these creeping doubts up into my heart – I need help to believe in you. Have you ever felt like that? You ever have a season, maybe just a couple days or more than that – where you’re going through some doubts?
Now I realize I’m breaking some rules this morning. Because common practice, at least in the churches when I was growing up, common practice is that you NEVER admit to your doubts. Don’t talk about doubt in the church. But I look at this story, at this father. This man who was just desperate to help his kid. He wanted to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus – but he still had some doubts. And so he just sort of put it all out there – I believe, help my unbelief! And I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that maybe that is more relatable than we want to admit. I think a lot of us have doubts, and we’re not sure it’s okay to admit it. Because if “you just have to believe” – then I think we’re afraid of doubt. Some of us are afraid that doubt will destroy our faith. Some of us believe that doubt is heresy, but the real heresy is belief that stays up in your head. I want to give you permission this morning to doubt. It’s okay to admit your doubts and to ask God for help with that. Barnabas Piper wrote book called “Help My Unbelief” and really unpacks this idea – I highly recommend the book, but one of the things he hits on is that, if you are doubting – asking God for help is a statement of faith. Help my unbelief is a prayer that demonstrates belief. When you go to a doctor, and you ask him to help you – that means you believe in him, you believe he can help you. When you come to God and said, “help my unbelief” that already shows that you’re trusting him a little bit. It’s okay to ask God for help when we doubt.
Two big examples. First, once upon a time there was a fella who loved Jesus. He told everybody about Jesus. He said Jesus is the way, Jesus is the answer, he is the messiah. He preached like that for a long time, but his teachings got him trouble with the establishment, and they put him in jail. He was in jail for a while. And while he was in jail he started to doubt. Was Jesus really the answer? Was he really the messiah? So while he was in jail, he told his friends, hey – go ask Jesus if he really is the messiah. Because the guy I’m talking about, the one who doubted, was John the Baptist. In Luke chapter 7, John sends his followers to Jesus and they ask him, “are you the messiah?” We’re talking about John the Baptist, like THE John the Baptists. And he had a moment of doubt when he was in jail. And so his followers come to Jesus, and I love Jesus’ response. He says you go back to John and you tell him what you see. He doesn’t get mad at John for doubting. John how could you? I thought we were cousins, you’re one of the superheroes of faith – you’re supposed to be bulletproof. How could you doubt? Jesus doesn’t even get mad. He says go back and tell John what you see. Look at my life for the evidence you are looking for – the blind can see, the lame can walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf can hear and the dead are raised.
You know who else had some serious doubts in their life? John Wesley. Yeah, that guy. If you don’t know, John Wesley was one of the founders of methodism. He was the Anglican priest who started the movement that led to this church existing. And yet in his life, it’s well documented that he went through a season of doubt. He was a priest! He knew all the answers, he had all the knowledge up in his brain – but he always felt like he was missing something. He wanted to experience God. He knew about God and he believed in God, but he doubted because he had always felt far away from God. Then one day he read Mark chapter 12, verse 34, which says, [read it]. And it bothered him to read that, because Jesus said, the kingdom of God is not far away, but John did not feel like God was close. That night John went to a prayer meeting at a place called Aldersgate and while he was there – he had an experience with God, and he went home and wrote in his journal that in the midst of his doubts, his heart was strangely warmed. What I want you to realize from all this is that doubt is not the heresy, shallow belief is. We’ve got to get belief out of our head, and put it into our lives. Bring your doubt to God – “I believe, help my unbelief”
James chapter 2 is our other scripture lesson today, and it starts [read v.18-19]. You have faith, I have works [hold up the paper] – what color is this paper? You have red, and I have blue – and James is just sort of squinting at them, “huh? No!” Belief is not the whole story. Even the demons believe in God, that’s not the whole story. We’ve got to complete the picture, faith AND works. And then James gets a little sassy, he says, [read v.20] James says alright fine, I will prove it to you, and then he launches into a bunch of examples – Abraham and Rahab, people who’s faith was shown BY THEIR ACTIONS. The evidence of faith is good works, faith is completed with works. [read v.24]. The phrase “you just have to believe” is true, but it is only half the story. You need to complete the picture, show the other side of the coin. [read v.26].
What I’m trying to show you with all this is that God motivates our faith. Faith and Action are two sides of the same coin, and what I hope you see is that God flips that coin – so that the life in front of us becomes a blur of both faith AND actions. When we accept God’s love, the Holy Spirit gets working on our heart and that motivates us to live out our faith in action. The belief may start in your heart, or in your head – but that faith is completed when you live it. “you just need to believe” – that’s a true statement, but it is only half the story. We need to complete the picture, let our life, and all the actions in it, complete our faith. So our response to God motivating our faith is to create evidence of your belief, by the way you live your life.
Here’s what I mean – if belief, up in your head, is all you’ve got – then a moment of doubt will destroy you. But if you live your entire life as evidence of what you believe. If your belief in God is worked out physically in your life – even when doubts flood your mind, you will not be shaken, because you will have all this evidence of your life right in front of you. A church that lives out its faith in the actions of their community life does not have to be afraid of skeptics and doubters. It’s okay for people to ask questions and struggle and not understand, because if the church has been living their faith – we’ve got evidence of God’s love all around us. Intellectual doubt doesn’t destroy our faith, because the evidence of God’s love is all around us. The evidence for belief that has been put into action is safe, because it’s not evidence that’s up in my head – it’s all around me. If I ever doubted God’s love, in this church all I have to do is look around. If my faith was ever shaken – all I need to do is remember that one time Joe Metz was care caller, and it was a slippery day – so he couldn’t make it up the steps to our church. So he sat in his truck and called all the members of our church from his cell phone. His commitment to loving people, even with his physical challenges, I remember that story and I know God’s love a little better. I think about the meal trains we set up when somebody goes in for a surgery, the pile of volunteers that stepped forward to help keep our church clean while Marlene is recovering. I think about the drive by baby showers we threw last summer – couldn’t visit, but we showed such beautiful celebrations and love. I think about the people in this church in recovery. Since I have come to this church, in just the past few years – I’ve seen people who have been sober for decades supporting those who have just given up their addictions in the past 6 months. And I am so proud of those people. And if I ever had a wave of doubt come through my mind, all I need to do is look around. Because God motivates our faith into action, and so we don’t need to be afraid of doubt. The evidence we seek is all around us – as long as we let our actions complete our faith.
So the challenge for us this morning is to put the evidence of your belief into your actions. If you believe this stuff about Jesus being the son of God who gave up his life for your sins – if you believe that you have been forgiven of your sins and you are given a second chance at life – live like that is true! The first challenge for us today is to live your life as if your beliefs are true. Believe out loud. The evidence of what you think up here [point to head] should be super obvious out here [point around], because that’s two sides of the same coin. It’s easy stuff – go to church, read your bible, pray, and serve other people. You know that classic song, we sang it just a couple weeks ago – they’ll know we are Christians by our belief statements? Wait, that’s not it. Is it – they’ll know we are Christians by our words? By our deep theological arguments? Not quite, they’ll know we are Christians by our denominational labels? By the things that we think up in our heads? No. They will know we are Christians by our love. A love that is seen. A love that is evidence of our beliefs. The challenge for us today is to live like your beliefs are true.
See, here’s what I think happened. A long time ago, churches started to experience decline. Let’s call a spade a spade, declined happened. And a lot of churches panicked. OH no! people are leaving the church! And so they thought to themselves – we should try and make being a Christian easier. Stay in our church – you don’t have to do stuff. You don’t have to volunteer, you don’t have to show up on Sundays – we’ll see ya at Christmas and Easter. You don’t have to like, read the bible or talk to God or anything – just stay, it’ll be so easy to be a Christian. You just have to believe. And over the years, Churches got in the habit of asking the question – what’s the bare minimum we need. Right? Like, how can I get this ministry over here done with the fewest volunteers? How can I do church without asking anyone to actually do anything? And I guess the more I read my bible, and the more I get to know Jesus and the more I love Jesus… I don’t want to sit on sidelines. I don’t want my beliefs to stay up in my head – I want to show that I love Jesus, by living the way he showed me. I want to obey his laws, I want serve people the way he served people. The question should never be – what’s the bare minimum, but rather for everything we do – the question should be how many people can we mobilize? Like, we don’t have coffee hour right now – but it used to be like 1 or 2 people. Why not ten? Why don’t we have a dozen greeters at the front door? Everybody that walks in the front door gets a standing ovation from a crowd and coffee hour looks like a banquet. Be careful, I’m starting to dream. If we want to live our life as if our beliefs are true – then it’s not about the church’s need for volunteers. It’s about your need to live out your beliefs. And if the church’s volunteering is full – then maybe we need to get out into the community. To serve, and live and love like Jesus. Maybe this is an unpopular idea, maybe I’ll drive people away from the church because I didn’t make it easy to be a Christian – but living out your faith is not about the church’s need for volunteers, it’s about your need to live your faith our loud.
Half an idea is half an idea. It doesn’t make it wrong, you DO need to believe. Believe with your heart, with your mind and with your hands. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you bring your doubts to Jesus, and cry out “I believe, help my unbelief.” May you let God motivate your faith, so that you can see it in your life. And may you, in everything you do, live your faith our loud. Amen.