Title: The Christian Life 6: Faith I*
Subject: Turning our whole life to God
Age: 15+ years
Prerequisites: The Christian Life lessons: 1. The Beginning, 2. Humility, 3. The Struggle, 4. Tools for the Struggle, 5. Unseen Warfare
The Christian lives by faith. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20.
Faith is often characterized as a firm belief in something for which there is no proof, thus the statement "blind faith." It is also believed by psychologists to be something that is derived from fear of the unknown. We as Orthodox Christians reject both of these notions.
For our purposes we will examine faith at three levels, the first being a turning of our whole being towards God. The second or intermediate is a hoping and trusting in God, what we will call a hope against hope. The third is a more perfect faith found in the stable soul.
We will review a couple of notes before we proceed. Is there a timeline? No. Each stage lasts for how long it lasts, and perhaps a lifetime. However, stage one is usually not longer than a few years, yet sometimes lasts only hours. Is it linear? Yes. What is our situation? In what context do we Twenty-First century Christians perfect our faith? In Luke 18:8, we read, "…When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"
Early Christian Fathers wrote of our generation saying that the mere keeping of the faith would be a great act. In fact they ventured that doing so would be a greater act than raising the dead. Of course they held such high praise for those of us who could keep the fullness of the faith resolutely.
There are also wrong types of faith, faith that does not save. For example, a faith that desires to do good, but is motivated by the increase of evil around it, instead of a sincere desire and movement towards God. "He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work" (Revelations 22:11-12).
Another type of wrong faith is a faith that is vague and unreasonable, and it can be characterized by the statement, "I believe in God but I don't go to Church." Or, "I am spiritual, but not religious." This type of faith is devoid of love and truth. Proper faith engenders fear and a desire to believe in God as He wants us to believe in Him. John 8:24 reads, "…For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." And we learn in Matthew 21:42 and 44, "…The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone…And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."
But we desire through faith to enter into real, living, and dynamic relationship with the One who Is and who Exists. By contrast we can say that a person never loses faith but rather the experience of "losing faith" is really the experience of losing grace. Grace is something that is experienced and felt in the deep heart of man, and which is the Divine energy of God which unites us to Him. St. Paul says in Hebrews 11:6, "…Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."
The first level of faith is turning our whole being to God. Once we realize and accept that in diligently seeking God we will be rewarded, the man turns. He sets his face towards God.
"It is his awakening to true life, for he can now acknowledge that God is the only true reality. He accepts the truth of all the mysteries of faith, and his steps are henceforth directed by the commandments of the Gospel. This is a new beginning and the word of God is its foundation" (page 22).
Keep in mind that the God we seek is personal and a living God who touches our heart by His grace. At the same time we recognize that God desires this relationship with man through faith to be one of equality. Man is not simply a creature brought into being but he is God's image, His equal with whom God can communicate (page 23). Matthew 10:32-33, in the Greek, "He who shall confess in me before men, in him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." Faith and our confession of and in God are not words so much as a living sensation of God within us (page 24). That is to say that God enters our deep heart and is experienced there. We turn to God and He desires a relationship through faith that is on equal terms and His desire is to reach our inner deep heart. The psalmist speaks of this heart of man that resides in the deep of him, "Both the inward thought and the heart of man are deep." (Psalm 64:6).
God seeks this deep heart diligently, targeting us and directing His gaze towards this deep heart inside of us. As we read in Job 7:17-20, "What is man, that thou dost make so much of him, and that thou dost set thy mind upon him, dost visit him every morning, and test him every moment?...Why hast thou made me thy mark?" God desires man's heart and this inner life and experience lifts man's existence.
Faith is more than rational or intellectual thought. In fact our inner life and thought can't be pre-occupied with this life if we hope to escape the grave. "…Our calling is so much higher than [rational thought] God wants man's deep heart to know the living, spiritual and divine sensation of His presence within her. And when man becomes aware of this treasure in his heart, a godly fear comes upon him" (page 25).
This is faith, not some rational agreement or assent. But what prevents this experience? It is the wrong use of our freedom. We become attached and enslaved by so many worldly things, and so God's grace is prevented. Yet man may come to realize and understand that His present attachments hinder him and that the words of Revelation 21:27 are true, "…There shall by no means enter [heaven] anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie…" Likewise man comes to know that unless he seeks holiness he will never see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). It is at this point that man gambles everything, holding nothing back. Once man realizes that he must risk everything, he enters into the second level of faith.
Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas.
*This lecture is taken from the first part of "Remember Thy First Love: The Three Stages of the Spiritual Life in the Theology of Elder Sophrony," Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex 2010, pages 17-352.