S2E14 — How Do You Use Your Faith?

Video link: https://youtu.be/MY4j7JIrGE4

Opening: Welcome to another installment of Almost Ordained. I am your host, David, the guy who went to seminary but never got ordained.

0:12 The Televangelist

When I was twelve years old, I discovered the phenomenon known as the televangelist. What fascinated me most about them was how they spoke to God, and God answered! I mean, according to them, they had regular conversations with God. I wanted that. Here’s an example. I don’t remember how it started, but according to my favorite televangelist at the time, the conversation turned to him asking if he could do anything that would give God joy.

God said, “Use your faith. I get more joy out of that than anything.”

Then he turns to the audience and says, “Well, doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Without faith, it is impossible to please God’? So using our faith must please God.” I said, ‘Okay, what do you want me to believe for?’ And he started naming off some things that I wanted, but I didn’t ask for because quite frankly, they looked too big for me. But since it was God telling me this, I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go for that.’

“God said, ‘I’ve been wanting to give you that.’

“I found out my Father in heaven had been wanting to give me a lot of things, but I was too irresponsible for them. Just like my father on earth, he’d wanted to give me a motorcycle for a long time, but he knew if he did, I would drive it off a cliff or something stupid like that.”

That was a very bad impression. I apologize for that. And I didn’t mean for it to sound mocking. Because at the time this did make sense to me.

But it ended with him talking about driving his motorcycle off a cliff. I don’t know if he meant that literally, but he has said in his testimony he was really a wild child before he got saved. So giving him a motorcycle probably would have been dangerous.

But isn’t this a beautiful testimony? He used to be a wild child, dangerous to himself and others. But since he met the LORD, he’s calmed down, and he has this wonderful relationship with his father on earth, and his father in Heaven, where he not only talks to God, but he hears God speak to him. And he found out God is not this cosmic killjoy who doesn’t want him to have any fun. God is this loving Father who wants to give him nice things that will make him happy. And God wants him to use his faith to get them by believing for them. Don’t you want a relationship with God like that? I did.

If this talk of using your faith and believing God for things sounds strange to you, I explained this in an earlier episode called “What did you say, God?”

3:37 Does it agree with the Bible?

Anyway, I knew that if God spoke personally to me or anyone, it had to agree with the Bible. You saw he quoted a verse from the Bible. The whole conversation was grounded in that verse. It’s from the Bible, so doesn’t that mean the Holy Spirit is backing up not only what this preacher heard, but the whole premise of the Word of Faith doctrine?

Well, just because it’s from the Bible doesn’t mean it agrees with the Bible. Anyone can pull a verse out of context that agrees with whatever they want. This voice spoke with authority, like God. It didn’t quote a verse but what the voice said seemed to allude to a verse that said, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” But was that voice talking to him really God?

Lots of people hear voices, myself included. That doesn’t mean what they’re hearing is from God. In fact, it may be a sign of mental illness (so I’m told). This is why John said,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1Jo 4:1 NRSV).

Many false prophets have gone out into the world. If that was true in John’s day, it is certainly true in our day as well. There are two types of false prophets: Those who hear something and think it’s God, but it’s not; and those who just make it up but claim they are speaking the words of God.

Whether or not we should believe this was the Holy Spirit speaking to him, whether or not he should believe this was the Holy Spirit, and whether or not any of us who hear voices should believe we are hearing the voice of God, depends on whether that voice agrees with the Bible, and especially with the testimony of Jesus. That was the rule I was taught when I started trying to hear God speak to me. And I still apply that rule.

6:47 “Without “Faith, It Is Impossible to Please God”

So to know whether what he heard agrees with the Bible or not, we need to examine that verse he referenced. What does the Bible really mean when it says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God”? Let’s look in Hebrews 11:

By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” And without faith it is impossible to please God, [There it is] for whoever would approach [God] must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

(Heb 11:5–6 NRSV)

What does “faith” mean in this verse? He says faith here means belief in two things. One, that God exists. Well, of course, how can you approach God or pray to God if you don’t believe that God exists? And two, that God rewards those who seek him. I think this preacher would say believing that God rewards those who seek God means believing God will give you what you pray for, or what you “believe God for.”

So it looks like this verse confirmed that this was God speaking to this preacher. It agrees with the Bible. Use your faith, because faith pleases God. But before you jump to conclusions, you first have to ask, “what does faith mean in this verse?” Really. I know we asked that before, but we need to ask again, what does faith really mean in this verse? The word faith can mean different things to different people or in different contexts.

To this preacher and all who preach the Word of Faith type of Gospel, “faith” means a spiritual force you direct at God to get the things you hope for to manifest in reality. I’ve argued in previous episodes this is not a Biblical understanding of “faith.” So I guess I have to dive a little deeper into the question, What is faith?

9:50 Pistis: A Little Greek Helps A Lot

The Greek word translated “faith” in this and many other passages is pistis. It sounds like I’m using a bad word, but I’m not. This really is the Greek word for faith.

“He won three Piston Cups.”

“He did what in his cups?”

Anyone remember that movie?

There are a few words in Greek I think every Christian should know, and pistis is one of them. But there are several possible nuances to it. For example, the Greek phrase, pistis Iesou Christou is important in the New Testament, as you could probably imagine. It’s usually translated “faith in Jesus Christ.” So where the Bible says, we are saved through pistis Iesou Christou, the church has taken that to mean salvation is through your faith in Jesus Christ. But my favorite professor in seminary believed it should rather be translated “the faith of Jesus Christ.” Faith, in this sense, would be better translated “faithfulness.” If this is correct, it would refer not so much to our belief in Jesus, but rather to the faithful act of obedience Jesus performed on the cross.

I don’t know for sure which one is correct. I think you could make a good argument either way. But the point is just as how you understand pistis Iesou Christou depends so much on how you translate the word pistis, how you understand pistis also makes a huge difference in how you read a verse like “without pistis it is impossible to please God.”

I’ll read the definitions that are in Gingrich’s Lexicon, one of the standard Biblical Greek dictionaries.

[GING] πίστις

πίστις, εως, ἡ faith, trust, commitment — 1. as a characteristic or quality faithfulness, reliability, loyalty, commitment Mt 23:23; Ro 3:3; Gal 5:22; Tit 2:10.

Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior. (Tit 2:9–10 NRS)

I didn’t want to get into slavery here. That is a whole can of worms that requires a much more in depth discussion. But if I tell you I do not endorse slavery, will you stick around for the point I really want to make?

The word translated “fidelity” here is actually pistis in Greek. Since it is the opposite of “pilfering” and “talking back,” it’s more about faithfulness, reliability, and loyalty than belief. Faith and faithfulness are not exactly the same in English, but the word pistis can mean either one of those.

— 2. that which evokes confidence, solemn promise, oath 1 Ti 5:12; proof, pledge Ac 17:31; τὴν π. τετήρηκα I have honored my obligation 2 Ti 4:7.

The second meaning, promise or pledge. An example is in 1 Timothy: “and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge.” (1Ti 5:12 NRSV)

The word “pledge” there in Greek is pistis, so in this sense, it is more closely associated with “reliability” or “commitment” than belief.

— 3. trust, confidence, faith in the active sense = ‘believing,’ esp. of relation to God and Christ Mt 9:2; Mk 11:22; Lk 18:42; Ac 14:9; 26:18; Ro 4:5, 9, 11–13; Gal 2:16; Eph 1:15; Col 2:12; Hb 12:2; Js 1:6; 1 Pt 1:21. Faith as commitment, Christianity Lk 18:8; Ro 1:5, 8; 1 Cor 2:5; 13:13; 2 Cor 1:24; Gal 3 passim; Js 1:3; 1 Pt 1:9. Conviction Ro 14:22f. Faith defined Hb 11:1.

This is probably the most common meaning of pistis in the New Testament, since it refers specifically to our relation to God and Christ. Confidence, and conviction tie in with belief. Commitment ties in with faithfulness. But trust I believe is a truer sense of pistis than belief, though belief is part of that as well.

— 4. That which is believed, body of faith or belief, doctrine Gal 1:23; Jd 3, 20; cf. 1 Ti 1:19. [pg 159]

In Galatians 1:23, Paul remembers how shortly after his conversion, people were saying, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” (Gal 1:23 NRS).

Pistis, translated “the faith,” in this context seems to fit the meaning of “a body of faith,” or “doctrine.” Sometimes we talk about the Apostolic faith, or the Catholic faith, or the Presbyterian faith, a set of beliefs or doctrines people confess faith or belief in. Pistis can have that meaning as well.

So to sum up, pistis can have the meaning of faith we normally think of, belief. It can mean faithfulness, reliability, or commitment. It can mean trust, as in how a believer relates to God or Christ. And it can mean a set of formal beliefs that one professes faith in. Which one is this verse (Heb 11:6) talking about? Fortunately, we have clues in the rest of the verse.

17:03 What Is Pistis in This Verse?

… for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. There is a belief component, believing that God exists. And there is a trust component, believing (or trusting) that God rewards those who seek him. Now according to this preacher, faith in this verse (and pretty much everywhere in the Bible) refers to a force, powered by personal belief, that determines whether your prayers get answered. On the surface, it looks like this preacher is following the Bible. He obviously believes God exists, because he’s having conversations with God. And if God is telling him to use his faith to believe for things he wants, then he is seeking God, and God is rewarding him for it. But, as I’ve said in previous episodes, this understanding of faith is flawed to begin with.

The most important understanding of pistis for a life of faith is trust. Trust requires building a relationship over time. How can it be an authentic relationship if the strength of the relationship is measured in what you can get from them? You can’t have an authentic relationship with someone you are always looking to get something from. And you can’t have an authentic relationship with someone you control and manipulate.

This Word of Faith approach says you can use faith to control and manipulate God into doing whatever you ask, regardless of whether it is in line with God’s will. If you pray the right prayers, quote the right scriptures, and believe you receive it, God will have no choice but to give it to you. And, according to what God said to this preacher, God is more pleased by this demonstration of faith than any other.

This is where I wish Christians had a more Jewish mentality. Traditional Judaism is very clear on this point. You can pray to God. You can ask God to do something or help you with something. But you do not control God. God is God, and you are not. Yes, the verse says you need to trust that God rewards those who seek him. But there are innumerable ways God can reward you. How God chooses to reward anyone who seeks him/her/it is up to God, not anyone else.

20:36 The Example of Enoch

And notice, the author of Hebrews pointed to Enoch as a definitive example of what it means to have faith that pleases God. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Enoch. The Book of Genesis says, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him” (Gen 5:24 NRSV), which is paraphrased in Heb 11:5, the verse we read earlier. Walked with God must be an expression for pleased God, because the author of Hebrews says this is how we know Enoch had faith.

Then he was no more, because God took him (Gen 5:24). This means he was one of only two people who was taken into heaven without dying (Elijah was the other). There are only a handful of verses about Enoch in the Hebrew Bible, but he gets a lot of attention in Jewish tradition. There is even a long extra-biblical book attributed to him, though it was probably written too late to be from Enoch.

What did Enoch do to be taken into heaven? Did he use his faith to pray and believe God for it? Was his belief so strong that when he asked to be taken into heaven, God had no choice but to do it for him? I suppose that’s possible, but I would say extremely unlikely.

I seriously doubt Enoch ever said anything like, “Oh God, I come before you to ask that I never die. You know I have walked with you all these years. I believe you exist, and I believe you reward those who seek you. And I believe you will reward me with immortality. I want to be taken into heaven without dying, just one day while I’m walking with you, keep walking, higher and higher, until I am there in heaven with you. I don’t want to wait until I die to live in your glory. I want it to happen while I am still alive. You promised if I pleased you with my faith, you would grant me the desires of my heart. I believe I receive it, I believe you will reward me because I have sought you all the days of my life, and I praise you for it. I can’t wait to see you, LORD. Literally.”

I doubt the idea that this was even possible ever occurred to Enoch, so how could he ask for it? How could he believe and receive it? If Enoch didn’t choose this, who did? God chose it, not Enoch. Enoch may have believed God would reward him, but he did not choose how God would reward him.

So in case you’re thinking of claiming this as a promise that you can believe and receive, don’t. This is how God chose to reward Enoch for walking with him. God never promised this to you or me. God never even promised it to Enoch. God just chose to do it. That’s what we mean when we say God is sovereign. Any definition of faith that denies God’s sovereignty is not faith.

Yes, we are promised to get to heaven. But since at least Jesus’ time, everyone who got there, it happened when they died. And heaven may be the only reward you see.

25:08 The Examples of John the Baptist and Moses

Think about John the Baptist. He lived in a desert, never had wine, never got married so probably never had sex, was arrested, spent his last months in a prison cell, and was beheaded. Do you think that was the desire of his heart? Do you think he got that because he believed and received it? Do you think God did not answer his prayers to be delivered from prison because didn’t have faith?

Did he get any reward on earth to speak of? I believe he did, but it’s not as obvious as the health and wealth Word of Faith preachers promise. The author of Hebrews says this about Moses:

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.

(Heb 11:24–26 NRSV)

The same could be said of the Baptist. John chose Moses’ reward, the satisfaction of fulfilling God’s purpose for him by being a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Messiah. Choosing that meant, if not poverty, then a Spartan existence. Abundant wealth was never even an option for the calling God had for him. It meant sharing ill-treatment with the people of God rather than living in Herod’s palace. It meant speaking truth to power and accepting the cost. It meant choosing justice and righteousness over Mammon and the fleeting pleasures of sin. Because of that, he considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. God rewards those who seek God. John the Baptist, like Moses, was looking ahead to the reward while he suffered abuse for the Christ. And that is why we still honor him two thousand years later.

28:30 What Will God’s Reward for You Be?

What will answering God’s call for your life look like? Will it mean perfect health and abundant wealth as a reward for seeking God? Maybe. Maybe not. Read through the entire 11th chapter of Hebrews, and you’ll see. Some of those heroes of the faith enjoyed great wealth. Many did not. Some enjoyed perfect health all their lives. Others did not. Some were delivered unharmed from enemies and persecution. Others are listed because they remained faithful (pistis) while enduring persecution. If you seek God, I don’t know how God will reward you. Neither do you, and you can’t manipulate God into rewarding you in any particular way. That is what the Bible says about faith. So don’t believe that televangelist who says you can.

29:50 Rebutting the Televangelist’s Rebuttal?

I imagine my former favorite televangelist who was talking about God telling him to use his faith for well, let’s see. I guess he’s used it for that 18,000 square foot mansion by the lake, and those boats he keeps docked there, and that fleet of luxury cars, and those nine private jets, and the [natural] gas drilling business he owns, I guess he would say, “But I didn’t tell God how to reward me. God told me what to believe for. God told me that using my faith pleases him.”

Of course, that assumes the voice he heard was God. But since everything that voice told him was based on a faulty and unbiblical definition of faith, I can’t accept that. Remember all those definitions of pistis we went through. Did any of them describe faith as a force that you can direct at God and use to make whatever you pray for become manifest in reality? No. I went through five or six possible definitions of faith, and that did not appear in any of them.

And the way he describes this voice he heard, it also assumes he was not making this up. He really did hear this. Okay, let’s say I give him the benefit of the doubt on that. Let’s say he heard this voice telling him to use his faith to believe for health, wealth, success, and all these markers of success, and if it wasn’t God speaking to him, what was it? I don’t know. I just know it wasn’t God because, as I said, it speaks from a faulty and unbiblical definition of faith.

32:48 To Answer the Question

So the title of this episode was, “How do you use your faith?” Remember the different meanings for pistis, and think of it this way. How do you use your trust in God? How do you use your belief? How do you use your faithfulness? You don’t. Using something implies it is a means to an end. Pistis in all its nuances — faith, trust, faithfulness, belief, commitment, reliability, trustworthiness, a body of doctrine atht you profess belief in — that is the end we seek, not a means to get what we want. If you want to be like Enoch or Abraham or Sarah or John the Baptist or Moses or any of the saints of old who are remembered for their great faith, forget about using your faith to force God to give you what you want, and trust God to bless you in a way that is appropriate for you.

34:42 Closing

Thanks for watching Almost Ordained. I hope this was helpful for you. And if it was, please click the like button. That will help it show up in people’s search results. Share it on your social media if you know others who would benefit from this. I hope you’ll come back for the next episode. Until then, remember these words from Matthew 7:12, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

Grace and peace to you.

David Anderson is a multi-passionate author of fiction and nonfiction. His latest book is Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain.

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