The main thing

How many times do churches descend into disagreements over petty issues? How many times do we disagree and divide over peripheral matters? Differences are inevitable, but it’s tragic when we lose our fellowship over them. A church I knew of split over where the flower arrangements were placed.

There are in fact many things that divide us as Christians, even though we all assume and accept the authority of Scripture.

Some of the things that divide us are not petty at all. They are in fact big, at least from a theological viewpoint. Baptism, church government, gender roles, perspectives on the sovereignty of God, eschatology (end-times), styles of worship and preaching are a few that come to mind.

Without diminishing the significance of any of these matters, I believe we all have one thing in common. And thankfully, the thing we have in common is in fact the main thing. To explain what that is, let me go back to Abraham.

The Bible describes Abraham as the father of us all. That includes you and me and all of us who profess Jesus as our Lord.

If he is the father of us all, then it follows that there is something about Abraham that applies equally to every one of us.

And there is.

The most fundamental fact about Abraham was that he had faith. He believed God and what God said. Paul even says God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.

And the same is true for us. The most fundamental fact about each of us is that we have faith in God, and faith in Jesus Christ, God’s son. When it comes to our relationship with God, faith is the main thing.

That is the same conclusion Martin Luther came to 500 years ago. His revelation changed the course of history. Yet somehow we are constantly tempted to get tied up in other things and lose sight of that main thing.

So we need to know what faith is. And equally, what it is not. Let’s start with the latter.

Faith is not intellectual or mental certainty. Faith is not mere agreement with certain points of doctrine, even if that doctrine is correct. If that were the case, signing a statement of faith would make you a Christian. And faith is not the capacity to believe in our minds that something will happen beyond the shadow of a doubt. If that were the case, we could manufacture the future by our own faith. That would make us God!

Neither is faith a matter of our emotions or feelings. If that were the case, faith would be nothing more than a temporary spiritual high - we have faith when we feel good and don’t when we’re down.

No, faith is something much deeper than this. Faith is not our opinion or our feelings about God. Faith is based on God’s opinion and how he feels about us. Faith tells us that God loves us in spite of our sins, and continues to love us even when we fail. Our best actions, beliefs or feelings cannot make God love us any more or less than he already does.

Faith is birthed out of a supernatural encounter in which the Spirit of God invades our human spirit and breathes new life into us.

Faith itself is actually a gift from God. It is not something we can create. What makes the difference between a Christian and a non-believer is that the Christian receives the gift, whereas the non-believer turns it down.

As a trained Biblical scholar, I am convinced of the importance of correct doctrine. As a pastor, I want people to experience God in all aspects of their being, including their emotions. But ultimately faith must remain the main thing, and then everything else will come into proper perspective.

Faith focusses us back toward the cross, toward Jesus, toward what the Father did for us when we were yet sinners.

That’s why it’s the main thing. Let’s keep it that way.