As long as the church has been on the earth, there has been a battle for the purity of the faith. There is the ever-present danger of doctrinal corruption, of moral corruption, of deviation from the norm established by Jesus and the apostles. That’s why, in the first century of the church, Jude could write, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3).
How much more does this apply to us today, living 2,000 years later, in an age of massive temptation, distraction, misinformation and defection? But how do we “contend for the faith”? How do we wage this battle? And how should we respond when well-known leaders—as seen very recently in two well-known cases—claim they no longer hold the faith they once proclaimed?
First, we must be sure that we really know God personally, for ourselves. Grandpa’s stories may be glorious, but they will not save your soul. Your mother’s prayers may be powerful, but you must experience God firsthand.
Do you know Him? Do you have a solid relationship with Him? Have you truly been born again, or are you simply following in the traditions of your church or family?
If you have a solid relationship with the Lord, when others fall—even leaders—you will grieve over them, but you won’t be shaken. As Leonard Ravenhill often said, “A man with an experience will never be at the mercy of a man with an argument.”
Have you experienced God for yourself? Deeply? Consistently?
And this leads to my second point. We must cultivate our personal relationship with the Lord and not simply rely on our teachers and leaders. We must move on from infancy, when we’re like helpless little babies being nursed with a bottle, and move on to maturity.
That means being disciplined in our times alone with God. That means being people of the Word. That means growing in holiness and godliness. That means sharing our faith with others.
It’s amazing how strong you become when you live out your faith and put into practice the things you believe. And it’s amazing how much fruit you will bear when you truly abide in Jesus. As the Lord said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
It’s time for us to grow!
Third, we must learn to love God with both our hearts and our minds. True faith does not mean that we turn off our brains. True faith does not mean that we don’t ask difficult questions. True faith is not afraid of controversy and conflict. True faith says, “Bring your objections and your challenges. I’m standing firmly on the Rock.”
Dan Brown, the bestselling novelist, whose writings are filled with anti-Christian sentiments, states that when he was a boy, he was caught between two worlds. His father was a nonbelieving math teacher and his mother a church organist, but he felt drawn to his father’s scientific approach and his mother’s faith.
Then, as a 13-year-old, he went to his priest and asked him to explain apparent contradictions between the Bible and science.
According to Brown, the priest said to him, “Nice boys don’t ask questions like that.”
That was a pivotal moment in Brown’s life, helping to produce the anti-Christian writer we know today. (His bestselling book is “The Da Vinci Code”).
What would have happened if the priest had replied, “Those are great questions! Let’s find answers together. We have good reasons for believing the Bible to be God’s Word, and we believe the God of science—true, real, accurate science—and the God of the Bible are one and the same God.” What would have happened?
I heard apologist Josh McDowell say that the objections to the faith he used to run into on college campuses are now common among young teens. Why? The internet spreads everything far and wide. And so today, the anti-faith arguments of atheists and skeptics have trickled their way down to our teens and even preteens.
Do we have solid answers? For them? For ourselves?
When I came to faith as a heroin-shooting, LSD-using, 16-year-old Jewish hippie rock drummer, I was immediately thrown into the deep waters. I met with learned rabbi after learned rabbi, all of whom were eager to convince me that Jesus was not the Messiah. And in all my years of academic study, from my B.A. in Hebrew to my Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and literatures, not one of my professors was a born-again Christian.
Some were downright hostile to the faith; others friendly, but strong in their nonbelief of the inspiration of the Bible. This meant that, for years, on many different fronts, my faith was challenged.
But I made a determination early on. I knew Jesus had changed my life. I knew my experience in God was real. And so I said to myself, If what I believe is true—and I’m convinced that it is—then it can withstand every kind of scrutiny and test.
For me, that meant hearing objections and challenges as if they were real, and testing them out in the fairest, most intellectually sound way I could. And the more I studied, the stronger—not weaker—my faith became. It’s wonderful to have heart and mind in harmony.
Fourth, don’t fight the battle on your own. If at all possible, connect yourself with other believers. Have friends you can lean on in tough times. Build relationships where there can be caring accountability.
As a wise man once wrote, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10).
Fifth, and last, don’t condemn those who fall. As Jude also wrote, “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 22). Rather than condemn with harshness, let’s reach out with mercy. Rather than turning against them as enemies, let’s pray for them as fallen friends.
People can recover from moral failures. People can seemingly lose their faith and yet return in repentance and humility.
As long as there’s breath, there’s hope. And who knows? You might just be someone’s lifeline back to God—provided that you yourself are strong in the faith.
Let’s spur each other on and finish the race! ©2019 Michael L. Brown
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.
Michael L. Brown is the founder and president of FIRE School of Ministry in Concord, North Carolina, and host of the nationally syndicated “Line of Fire” radio show.