The Conundrum of Faith and Love

This is our pastor’s article for the Summer, 2019 edition of our newsletter.

Faith

The workings of a holy God are contrary to our sinful nature, for He is pure and we are not.  So, don’t let how He chooses to do things surprise you.  Still, we often are.  Reflect on faith, and you will recognize this is so.  For, to our way of reckoning, faith is something active. 

Most people think faith comes into existence by an act we do, despite Scripture speaking of God as the Savior, who saves by faith, who speaks us righteous.  Still, we always incline ourselves to turn faith into our work, all the more so as our language becomes our ally in this endeavor.  Ponder how we speak, which, too often, turns faith into something we do. 

Well, if this is true, our believing changes our status with God the Father, not Jesus.  So, we realize believing, in and of itself, cannot save us.  No, one’s faith clings to the incarnate Christ because His restoration for someone is real before a person ever places his hope in Him—if not, what someone believes doesn’t matter anyway.  Only in His work for us, does Jesus gift us with something to hold on to as real and valid. 

(Did you catch me using “cling,” “place,” and “hold,” which are all active verbs, what we do?  Here, our English structures and scaffoldings work their way around, misshaping our theology.  So we spot a glimpse of how our language-formed thought patterns shape how we think—often without us realizing.)

So, the words we associate with faith, prompt us to define faith, not as God’s activity, but as something we do.  Now, we turn a decision for Christ or submitting to His will as our moment of salvation.  So, we’ll bumble out inept phrases like, “Jesus saved you.  Now all you need to do is…”  Such words undercut the Gospel, taking away from the “all” God does to redeem us.

Doesn’t Scripture’s sacred pages affirm faith to be a divine gift?  Yes, in Ephesians 2:8.  To be a gift means we did nothing to contribute to what we received; otherwise, the giftedness of something goes away.  On our end, faith isn’t doing but receiving, something the Father does, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit.

Love

In matters of love, many of us understand love as something passive, an emotion.  A person comes along and captures you and, poof, you “fall” in love.  Strange, for the verb “fall” is active, yet we recognize its function as passive.  Why?

No one wants to fall; this happens when someone trips and tumbles.  So, despite the sentence, “He fell in love,” which uses an active verb, we treat it as describing what took place, not as the cause.  Again, our usages of language entrap us, nullifying the dynamic nature of “fall” into something inactive and passive.

So, the verbs in our vocabulary can betray us, twisting our perceptions of both love and faith.  All this should be so simple for us to realize—if only our worded patterns of thought didn’t constrain us like captives.  Now, our minds, all too often, conclude our beliefs in God come about by something we bring into being.  All the while, we turn love into a mere, passive emotion, stripping away its verbness and its activity toward others. 

Listen to the Scriptures: “This is how we understand love—Jesus laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).  Here, John uses “understand” as a synonym for faith, by which each Christian comes to rely on God’s downpour of enfleshed love.  How?  Not by doing something, but by God accomplishing something—laying down His life for us. 

Passive Faith and Active Love

So, faith doesn’t do, but trusts in the working of another.  In turn, faith leads to faithfulness, which does express itself in love.  So love does the doing, not faith.  Return to Christ, often and always, to relearn this truth.  “Now to someone who works, his wages aren’t considered as some gift, but an obligation.  To the one who doesn’t work, however, who believes in him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5). 

Still, don’t assume faith, because of its passivity, is empty or lifeless.  How can this be?  For our faith receives its life from God.  Nothing is dead when the Spirit joins us to the Word of Life, who gave His life for us all!

In your faith-life, receive the love God provides for you in His Word and Sacrament.  For God’s love, to us and for us, is the focal point of our God-gifted faith.  Never stagnant, His love for us moves through us to others, empowering our Christian lives toward others.  For, in, and through is the pattern of our lives, from a faith received to a love lived out.  Amen.

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