I heard an excellent sermon yesterday morning on faith. We all talk about faith, and anyone who professes to be a Christian claims to have it, but I suspect few of us really understand what it is, and how we should demonstrate it in our everyday lives. Jesus told his disciples that we are to ‘receive the kingdom of God like a child’, yet in other places, we are told we must develop a mature faith, and that a ‘baby faith’ is unacceptable. In trying to solve this apparent contradiction, we often confuse child-like faith with childish faith.
Childish faith sees God as either a strict disciplinarian constantly looking for an excuse to punish us, or an all-loving parent whose only concern is for us to be happy. Its expects God to accept, and even provide, whatever makes us happy, even though it may be in direct violation of Scripture. A childish faith is shaken by troubles and difficulties which come as a result of living in a world under the dominion of Satan and sin. It accuses God of ‘unfairness’ when sickness, death or other calamities befall someone that doesn’t ‘deserve’ it. The real focus of a childish faith is self, not God; it manifests itself as, “I’ll believe in You, God, as long as you act like I think You should.” Childish faith has a foundation of feelings, not knowledge. .
God expects us to grow in our faith. Peter tells us, “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation“- 1 Peter 2:2. The author of Hebrews tells us that spiritual milk is a good beginning, but is not enough.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”- Hebrews 5:12-14
The call to follow Christ is full of so-called contradictions: I lose my life in order to gain it; when I am weak, then I am strong; the greatest in the kingdom shall be the least. Here is another: have a grown-up faith, but trust God like a child. How do we reconcile this? A proper understanding of child-like faith can help solve the apparent contradiction.
- Child-like faith is not a naive faith. When we are very young, we believe and obey our parents based upon a simple “because I said so”, and because of fear of the consequences of challenging their authority. As we come to know our parents and understand that they love us, we not only obey, but begin to do things we know will make them happy. In the same way, as we mature as Christians we move from a faith based on fear to one of love and desire to please God, as our knowledge of Him grows through reading, prayer and meditation on His word. Childish faith fears God, and is driven to obedience by fear of punishment or loss of blessings, because it does not understand His true nature. Child-like faith is based on an intimate knowledge of God and a desire to please Him, motivated by genuine love.
- Child-like faith is not an unquestioning faith. God never expects us to follow Him blindly. He invites us to put Him to the test, so that we may know Him better. In Malachi 3:10, God tells the Israelites to “test me now in this“, in the matter of their failure to properly give tithes and offerings. David said, ” O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalms 34:8). Even when we reach a higher level of spiritual maturity, there are still things we don’t understand. Like little children, we constantly want to know ‘why’, and we sometimes refuse to trust God until He gives us an explanation. But there are times when God chooses not to answer. In the book of Job, we have an example of a man who was expected to remain faithful to God without ever being told the reason for the calamities which befell him. God is patient with our questions, but at times the answer is simply “Trust Me” while we experience His faithfulness as He sustains us through our adversities.
- Child-like faith is a trusting faith. When my daughter was a toddler, we visited a swimming pool and played a game: she would come running and jump into the pool, where I would catch her before she went under the water. Apparently she really enjoyed it, because she kept playing even after I began to lose interest (needless to say, she would suddenly get all of my attention). She had learned that it was ‘safe’ for her to jump into the water, because Daddy was there to catch her. That’s the level of trust that Jesus calls us to have. The Bible is full of God’s promises to care for and sustain His people under any and all circumstances. We can continually ‘dive in the water’, because unlike human fathers, God’s attention doesn’t wander, and He won’t let us sink over our heads.