Beware of sincere believing that will not save the soul.
A few years after Stephen King began his successful string of mass-market novels, I discovered his books, and faithfully began devouring every novel he wrote. It wasn’t long before I noticed his pattern of incorporating downright loony religious characters into his stories.
It made me wonder if he was using his fiction to channel some deep personal revulsion toward Christianity, perhaps triggered by something he’d experienced in childhood. I eventually read an interview where King was asked about his belief in God, but he didn’t give up much more than, “Well, I believe there’s something out there.”
If you conduct a straw poll among people you know, I’m guessing you’ll probably hear similar non-committal beliefs as well. In fact if you get specific and ask someone, “Have you believed in Jesus Christ?” they may say to you, “Well, yes, of course” as though it were a given, like believing in Elvis, Mickey Mouse, Napoleon, and George Washington. When someone answers you this way, you know they’re not getting you.
The problem is that they are thinking about one kind of faith, while you’re talking about another. And that actually is the problem.
There are two different kinds of faith floating around.
The first version is what I call Lochness Monster faith. If you randomly ask someone if they believe in the Loch Ness Monster (and promise them it’s off the record), maybe they’d say, “Oh, I don’t know, who’s to say? I guess. Yeah, maybe. Kind of creepy to imagine that thing swimming around in that lake over there.”
This is like the faith James spoke of in his letter:
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (1:19).
According to this verse, demons believe in God. No demons subscribe to atheism, or agnosticism. They lead human beings down those paths, but they themselves know better. And not only do they believe, but they believe God is one. This hearkens back to the verse that says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deut. 6:4).
“One” refers to the one God of Israel who gave the law to Moses, and who eventually sent His Son to die for our sins and rise from the dead. In other words, demons believe in the biblical God. None of them are pluralists, relativists, syncretists, or postmodernists. None think all roads lead to the same place. Again, they promote these philosophies among men, while knowing every bit of it is fictitious. They believe in the one God of the Bible to the extent that it makes them shudder.
Yet even after all their correct belief, they’re still demons. At the end of the day, their faith does not help them, much less save them.
“Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:20).
A complete, saving faith affects life. It causes one to do certain things, and not do other things. In fact, faith without effect is dead.
It’s what I call Loch Ness monster faith. I shudder when I think about a large creature swimming around in Scotland. But it is not going to affect my daily schedule, my life, my character, or my decisions, in any way. The only difference it makes is where I go swimming (It won’t be Loch Ness).
But then there’s another kind of faith—the one the Bible commends. This is what I call ibuprofen faith. Every day, people prove their belief in this tiny pill, by taking it, that is, receiving it into their mouth and swallowing it with the certain expectation that it will affect them.
This is the faith of John chapter 1 verse 12, where it speaks of people’s attitude toward Jesus:
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”
In this verse, believing and receiving are synonymous terms. If we believe, we receive. In order to receive, we believe. For those who believe in the name of the Son of God, the Bible promises an affect so vast that it becomes a virtual sea change, moving you from the Dead Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Believers “become children of God.” The implication is that you weren’t, but after this kind of faith, you are. Believing in the Son, causes you to become a son. Ibuprofen faith makes a difference. It creates a completely new trajectory of life and eternity than the one you’d been on.
How does this effect come about? The very next verse explains it, by telling us the children of God are those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” The moment Christ came into them through their receiving of Him, they were born all over again on the inside. A new reality was initiated within.
There’s nothing casual or non-commital about this type of faith. It doesn’t acknowledge Christ from a distance with a friendly wave, admit He is “good,” and then continue on, unaffected.
I grew up in the deep south, where country music was the soundtrack of life, having a gun was like owning a laptop, and believing in God was a value one could almost absorb from the air. But one day when I was ten, I tried out a little adult freedom, and made a joke at Jesus’ expense. Neither of my parents were strict evangelicals, but they were God-fearing, and so my remark didn’t strike my country dad as funny. That day, the term “Bible belt” took on a whole new meaning for me. I learned there were not only some things you shouldn’t mock, but should positively make you shudder. Like God.
Looking back on it, I actually needed (as we all do), that kind of Lochness Monster faith, because without it, I wouldn’t have even come up to the standard of a demon in my belief about God. Hebrews 11:6 says, “He who comes forward to God must believe that He is…” However, such faith is incomplete. For a while I couldn’t understand this. Christians told me, “You must believe in Jesus,” but it made no sense. I had already believed in Him most of my life, and so it seemed they kept telling me something obvious.
For a while I remained a person who believed and shuddered, without becoming a child of God.
On a couple of occasions I had some bizarre false starts. Like the time I tried keeping the Old Testament dietary regulations of Leviticus. I figured I’d earn points with God by going kosher, but that lasted until, in a chow line, I saw a vat of fried bacon, hot, crispy, and glistening. It was a thing of beauty. My new religious resolve came crashing down, and I probably shouldn’t have expected anything else— not when one-third of my constitution was already pork.
Although I felt pathetic about my failures, I had no idea that my problem was an overage of trust in myself. I had assumed I had no need to receive anything, and that my native will power and cultural faith was enough to forge a new life. But eventually in an hour of great disappointment later on, I ran fresh out of elbow grease, and positive thinking. Without any further reserves, there was nothing left between me and God except a cross with a bloodied Savior on it, and a promise that this was all I needed.
In those terse minutes, I gave up on myself, and received something I’d never had—the Son of God.
That was my experience with one faith and then another. One trembled, the other received.
Which do you have?