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The Agonizing Duty of Faith: Christ?s Call to Believe In The Gospel

It’s been a few weeks since we looked at Mark last, and we left off with Jesus’s command to “repent” in chapter 1 verse 15. To repent is one side of the coin, and Jesus’ next command is the flip side, a call to faith. “Believe in the Gospel.”

“Believe.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it’s not as easy as it sounds. In fact, every false religion and way of life out there seeks to mix works and deeds into it. Keep your hair cut short. Avoid alcohol. Don’t drink coffee. Don’t marry. Marry more than one wife. Obey these laws. You know the story.

It fits the spirit of our age to look to works and deeds to “earn” the next life. Oprah Winfrey, the spiritual guru of millions, once said this about a person’s beliefs: “her loving and her kindness and her generosity brings her – if it brings her to the same point that it brings you, it doesn’t matter if she called it God along the way or not.” So it’s all about being a good person, doing good things. It’s work.

Having faith, simple faith, in Christ, in the Gospel, it seems so straightforward. Why would people want to add to it? Part of it, I believe, is because faith in Christ is total dependence. It’s complete trust. It’s abandoning hope in yourself and leaving yourself totally in His hands. That’s so, so hard on the pride. It’s humiliating. We want to earn it somehow, to deserve it somehow. As sinners, as rebels against God, we are so full of ourselves that we want God in our debt. We want to get the glory of achieving it through our own efforts. We’re drowning men who don’t want the lifeguard to do the saving lest it look like we were helpless and lost. That’s embarrassing. So we’d rather try to swim back to shore instead.

And more and more these days, the world is trying to get around the idea of belief. See, true belief requires an object, something outside and beyond ourselves. You have to believe something, believe in something. Some get around that by redefining faith itself. It’s a force, a substance, to these people. It doesn’t matter what the faith is in, just so long as you have it and it’s strong enough. I saw the result of this horrible attitude a couple years ago in the news, where a Wisconsin family chose not to take their sick daughter to the doctor. They thought that if they prayed hard enough, they would heal their daughter. That’s the earning and achieving thing again – do something well enough, even something called “faith,” and God will have no choice but to do your will. The object of their faith was all wrong—their faith was not actually in a sovereign God, but rather in the misguided conviction that the girl would be healed. They believed in the healing instead of the Healer. They believed in something false, something that never came to pass. They believed in something that wasn’t even real, and that little girl died when a simple insulin shot could have saved her.

Others go even further. I’ll return to Oprah again, because she represents the spirit of our age so well. Here’s her words, in an interview with an author whose book she highly recommends to her viewers: God, and the essence of all conscience, isn’t something to believe. God is. God is. And God is a feeling experience, not a believing experience. And if your religion is a believing experience, if God for you is still about a belief, then it’s not truly God. That’s what you’re saying.

There simply could not be a more diametrically opposite perspective than that of Christ. In Christianity, faith is the only thing. Faith in an objective God, who has revealed himself to us in believable, knowable, articulable truths and facts. True religion is not a fuzzy, undefined, ethereal feeling, but a firm confidence in something so real it can be confessed and expressed and believed. And this faith is not mere knowledge, but a trusting faith. A faith that is sufficient—indeed, we confess that we are saved by faith alone, not by works, lest any of us boast, lest any of us be so arrogant as to try to put God in our debt.

Jesus came into Galilee, asserting a sovereign God, proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom, calling wicked sinners to turn from their evil ways, and then leaves them with only one thing they really can do. Believe in the good news. Believe in the message Jesus is preaching. There’s a demand, a cost, here, too. We have to relinquish our self-confidence. We have to give up our pride. We have to abandon all hope in ourselves. That’s another demand of discipleship.