The journey toward faith

 Introduction

Each Christian has his/her own individual journey toward faith. This journey is mostly contingent upon certain suppositions that are nurtured in through life experiences. These life experiences shape and shifts our faith depending on our relationships, methods of worship, and denominations. This essay contends that a faith journey should be founded on biblical Scripture, first and foremost, and gives three healthy passages in the Bible that lay a solid foundation for that journey. These passages, taken incongruity, help push a personal faith journey from initial belief in Christ toward practical spiritual formation.

Romans

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4 ESV).

In this passage, Paul establishes the Christian way of life in the spirit. It is imperative to first understand chapter seven, and its failures in the spirit, to fully grasp what Paul is extolling here in chapter eight. The dramatic contrast between seven and eight describes victory through the Spirit. [1] This passage paints a milieu of the Christian faith journey, one walked in victory over sin in the flesh by walking according to the spirit of Christ that now dwells in us due to our faith in his Lordship. John Calvin explains: “That though they were still beset by sin, they were yet exempt from the power of death.”[2] Starting in chapter eight, Paul shifts from the struggle to the victorious life a Christian possesses, if lived out in the spirit.

 The Christian is exempt from death through belief in Christ, but this success is granted through the process of sanctification. The beginning of Romans eight introduces the sanctification process to the Christian life. Men/women are tasked to differentiate between a life led by the spirit as the believer walks in the world led by the flesh.

Greek philosophy has particular literary significance in these verses; the good conversationalist tends to descend in his arguments from the common to the particular; one would move from the genus to the species, to the ultimate species.[3] Paul does this when he “leads from strength by beginning with arguments grounded in human experience, then turns to the Scriptures, and then finally argues on the basis of analogies with customs and other commonplaces.”

John

“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake, I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:16-19 ESV).

Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, which highlight the Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as the final preparation of Jesus before his arrest, the Gospel of John omits that but has instead a wonderful prayer in chapter seventeen.[5] This prayer has been issued many names but the ESV titles it the “High Priestly Prayer.” In this prayer, Christ is praying for his disciples and by extension, the future saints of his soon to be church. Noticeably, Christ uses the same language Paul uses in Romans differentiating the world in which mankind lives and that of the believer who operates primarily from a place not of the world. He quickly relates his consecration to believer sanctification, which is the fountain from which spiritual formation flows.

In this passage, Christ highlights two key factors that guide all Christian faith: the sanctification and the source by which the believer walks toward sanctification. The word that Christ uses here is ἁγιάζω, (hagiazō), a verb meaning to set apart, sanctify, consecrate, dedicate. To make something holy.”[6] Jesus is praying for our holiness that we obtain by seeking him, which is the truth. That truth is found in his word. That word is given by the Bible. This passage shows Jesus Christ praying to God that we pursue the process of sanctification by means of seeking his truth set forth in the biblical text. This is often, from the reformed tradition called sola scriptura, which means Scripture alone.[7] The assertion is that faith and experience are measured from the biblical text. Christ is putting forth this assertion in a strong language where he asserts that God’s word is the truth that sanctifies discipleship.

1 Thessalonians

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Th. 5:16-22 ESV).

This passage in Paul’s epistle to Thessalonica gives practical application of how the Christian life can measure its faith. Here, he gives the Church an outline of what the spiritual walk should look like, back-dropped by the will of God.  Just as Paul contrasts his chapters in Romans, he does the same here. His exhortations given in 4:1–12 pertain to the individual lives of the constituents of the church whereas thfound in 5:12–22 deal with the affiliation as a whole.[8] Here, Paul gives the church distinct actions or practices that show the faith journey in Christ Jesus. The mainstay is that a life lived in the spirit is in constant thankful and prayerful subjugation to the will of God in any circumstance. 

In particular, Paul uses the admonition “but test everything; hold fast what is good” (v.21). He is relenting to the church that healthy skepticism is a good thing for those who truly wish to live out their faith in the spirit. The correct way to test what is true is by testing it against the word of God; the Bible that Christ had already deemed consecrated and true in the Gospel of John.

Conclusion

The three passages mentioned outline an objective way to advance any spiritual journey that cuts through presuppositional bias. It speaks to the philosophical basis for new birth in Christ while giving God’s source material for that decision and follows with some practical application in which Christians can measure their walk in the spirit. These three passages set parameters around any faith journey while reshaping the inner self of whichever denominational pull he/she is a part of. Ultimately the test of faith is what calls the Christians into questioning the core belief system in which he/she has prescribed to, these passages give a constant answer to this test while upholding and supporting the justification for the question. The Christian journey is one in which the true disciple is in constant war with the world in which he/she lives while striving toward an unattainable goal of complete sanctification at the same time as we are called to be thankful and joyful in this journey. Naturally, the will of God is to test this faith, as the world tests it, as we are tasked to test it. The word, and will, of God, is right and true and capable of withstanding such scrutiny. 

Bibliography

Borchert, Gerald L. The New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2002.

Calvin, John, and John Owen. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon. Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937.

Litwalk, Kenneth D. “Sanctification.” In Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series. Edited by Douglas Mangum et al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014.

Mounce, Robert H. The New American Commentary. Vol. 27. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995.

Sawyer, M. James. Survivor’s Guide to Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Witherington, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: a Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2004.

Footnotes: 

[1] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 166.

[2] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 275–276.

[3] Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 207.

[4] Ibid, 207.

[5] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, vol. 25B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 185.

[6] Kenneth D. Litwak, “Sanctification,” in Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series, eds. Douglas Mangum et al., (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

[7] M. James Sawyer, The Survivor’s Guide to Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 116.

[8] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937), 352.

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