Simply Living by Faith
Simplicity is something that has always attracted me. Maybe that’s because I either see it in Jesus’ life and ministry or because I read it into his story. Or maybe it’s because I often feel limited in what I am able to do, especially with time constraints in the modern world, and so I yearn for simpler times and simpler ways of living. Maybe it’s a thousand other reasons too, and maybe you connect with one or more of them.
Here at Skillman, we have begun focusing our church calendar around the three virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. We spend time focusing in on each of them at different points throughout the year, and right now, we are wrapping up our season where we focus on what it means to Live by Faith. (And just to be clear, we are not finished living or learning about how to live faithfully–we are simply moving to our next season of focus on Hope when April turns to May.) And so, as we near the end of this season of living by faith, I have been thinking about simplifying down to the point of this statement. How do we simply live by faith?
I’m glad I asked! Because this past week, we were reminded during our baby dedication ceremony by Shalene that Jesus instructed us to have faith like that of a child (for example in places like Matthew 18:3). And part of what that means is learning to live like a child. Now Jesus is not telling us to become immature or to not care about our faith. Jesus is instructing us to become curious like children. To be filled with joy and wonder. To seek answers and to let nothing hinder us from following Jesus.
As adults, these can be things that we forget about or become too busy for. We want all facets of our faith to be tied with a nice, pretty bow so that we can confidently and securely share that faith without room for fear or doubt. We want our faith to be tidy so that we can attend to the other areas of life that are often messy: work, finances, health and fitness, and sometimes even family and relationships.
Again, let me be clear–these are incredibly important facets of life, and they should not be neglected. But I return back to my thoughts about simplicity and wonder if we don’t do ourselves a disservice by trying to tie up every loose end when it comes to our faith. Because here is what often happens when we attempt to do so…
We follow that one loose strand to find a conclusion, and along the way we begin to find numerous loose strands. Wonder why the church down the road operates differently from your church? Well, that might lead to asking questions about one another’s practices. Is communion a weekly practice, quarterly, once a year, or some other pattern? Should baptism be performed on infants or adults? Does their governance structure look different from yours? And these questions inevitably lead to asking who is right and who is wrong. And these loose strands must be tied up. We must find a conclusion because there are other matters of pressing importance that we need to attend to in our lives.
I have nothing wrong with conclusions or tying up loose strands, but often the desire to do so leads to a dangerous outcome: it leads to us vs. them. We are right and they are wrong. When did faith become about this? Where did Jesus instruct us to become arbiters of truth and to control the keys to the kingdom of heaven? This us vs. them thinking spreads out from body to body, Christian to Christian, and it is one of the most important factors in why generations of young people are leaving our churches and leaving faith systems all together. Because they have seen how ugly faith can be when we follow this train of thought.
Instead, these generations are seeking the kinds of communities that can foster exactly what Jesus indicated in places like Matthew 18. Conversation, understanding, learning, wonder, joy, questions, doubt, curiosity. It, in many ways, is a simpler faith. One that does not require that we wrap up loose strands and questions with a conclusion, much less that we become the judge of truth, and rather focuses on the one who said he was not only the Way and the Life, but also the Truth. For it is in the person of Jesus that we continue to learn about the life of faith. It is in the Gospels that we return to find that they can be shallow enough for a child to wade into, and deep enough for an elephant to swim.
One final example, perhaps, can help us think about this. In Matthew’s Gospel, we read a unique detail about Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:14 that does not show up in Mark or Luke’s account. John tries stop Jesus from being baptized. John baptizes for the repentance of sins, and so John knows that if Jesus is sent from God, he does not need to be baptized. Instead, John wants Jesus to baptize him! But Jesus remains convinced that by being baptized, he will fulfill all righteousness–that even though the structure and purpose of baptism doesn’t seem to apply to Jesus, he understands that it is the right thing to do. And when Jesus is raised from the waters, a voice from heaven (presumably God’s) declares that Jesus is God’s Son and God finds pleasure and happiness in him.
Jesus’ baptism doesn’t fit the mold. It isn’t necessary according to our faith that has been bound up and the answers that we have shared to our questions. And yet, Jesus knows that it is right and good. Jesus shows us how to live this simpler faith–the kind of faith that allows room for curiosity, wonder, and joy. And so, as we near the end of this season of living by faith, it is my encouragement to you to not settle for an understanding of faith as a system of beliefs, but rather as a way of living just as Jesus taught us and encouraged us to do. May you live today simply by faith.