Levels of Faith
Faith and trust are a part of our daily lives physically. When it comes to our government, we have faith or confidence that the laws will be enforced and justice will be served. When it comes to our utilities, we have faith or confidence that the lights will come on when we flip a switch and that water will come out of the faucet when we turn it on. When it comes to our vehicles, we have faith or confidence that our cars will start when we turn the key and the brakes will work as we approach a stop sign. There are many more examples that could be shared, but the point is made: It would be hard to live in a world where we could not have faith or confidence in anything or anyone else. So, we continue to trust even when we have been let down in the past on occasion. Perhaps it has happened to you before that your car didn't start one morning due to a dead battery, so you put in a new battery and trust that it will start the next time you turn the key. Sometimes things (and even people) will let us down, but we don't give up on them in the ultimate sense when this happens. We make repairs or corrections, and life rolls on--along with our confidence. Faith and trust are an inseparable part of life on Earth.

But, there is much more to our existence than just the physical realm. We need faith and confidence in our spiritual lives, too. Let's read some passages that establish this point:

There is no question that it is important to trust in God and have confidence in His Scriptures. Unlike a car battery, which we trust but will eventually fail us, God and His word never fail! It is true that fellow Christians will let us down, but the Lord will never let us down! Friends, we need trust and confidence (faith) in all aspects of our existence. So I ask: What kind of faith do you have? There are four levels of faith that I'd like for us to explore at this time.

It is great to inherit things: family heirlooms, estates, money. However, some things that are inherited aren't really of all that much value. A faith that is inherited is one of these things. Faith that leads us to follow family tradition is inherited faith. People who have only inherited faith will say things like: "Momma & Daddy believed this way, so I will too!" or "My grandmother was a good woman and she always went to church here, so I will too!"

Saul of Tarsus, from his parents and ancestry, had inherited faith - "Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eight day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3:4-6). But, Saul turned his back on inherited faith when he learned, believed, and obeyed the gospel of Christ! He affirmed in Philippians 3:7 - "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ."

Inherited faith will not save! It can, if your heart is right, lead you to true faith, however. This was the case with Timothy, according to what Paul said in II Timothy 1:5 - "When I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also."

What does it mean to be indoctrinated? We often use the term as a synonym for brainwashing, but it doesn't have to include that notion. To be indoctrinated is to be taught. However, true faith is not something you just absorb or learn from others. There is more to it than that. Other people cannot simply teach you exactly what to believe.

When you hear someone speak the following: "What does the church say about this idea?" or "What do we believe about this subject?" that is a red flag for someone who has indoctrinated faith. They believe anything the church or preacher tells them to. "My preacher says..." is the classic line of a person with indoctrinated faith. They have absorbed the faith of someone else without ever stopping to think if what they are believing is right or wrong. Another phrase along the same wavelength is this: "I'll be 'church of Christ' until I die!" Some would make a statement like this--as if the church of our Lord is a denomination! Those with indoctrinated faith would be likely to think: "If the sign in the front yard says 'church of Christ,' then it must be right!" But that's not necessarily true, unfortunately. Just because a group claims to follow the Lord doesn't mean that they actually do.

Romans 10:1,2 comes to mind - "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." Sadly, there are many who have faith in what they have been taught, but their faith is not based on knowledge. They have simply believed everything and anything they have been told. This reminds me of an illustration I encountered years ago. It is reported to have been told by Napoleon to spark patriotism among his men:

Once, while visiting a province he came upon an old soldier in full uniform but with one sleeve hanging empty. He proudly wore the coveted Legion of Honor.
Napoleon asked, "Where did you lose your arm?"
The soldier answered, "At Austerlitz, sire."
Napoleon asked, "And for that you received the Legion of Honor?"
The man said, "Yes, sire. It is but a small token to pay for the decoration."
Napoleon continued, "You must be the kind of man who regrets he did not lose both arms for his country."
The one-armed man asked, "What then would have been my reward?"
Napoleon answered, "I would have awarded you a double Legion of Honor."
And with that, the proud old fighter drew his sword and immediately cut off his other arm.

What a great story of patriotic duty! It apparently was quite effective in stirring up in Napoleon's men a desire to sacrifice even more for the cause of France! There's only one problem with the story. It's simply not possible. Apparently it was years before anyone dared to ask Napoleon the question: "How can a soldier draw a sword and cut off his own arm if he only has one arm?" Nice story. Stirring, moving, motivating, but it wasn't true!

It's possible for the same thing to happen to us in a religious sense if we are not careful. We can get all "fired up" without much thought as to the truth of what we're getting excited about. That's what Paul is talking about in Romans 10:1,2. Zeal is good. We all need it. But, we also need to make certain that our enthusiasm is firmly based on our knowledge of God's will and a pursuit of His truth. I Corinthians 15:34 commands - "Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."

Indoctrinated faith cannot save you. It can, if your heart is right, lead you to true faith, however. Some in Athens in Acts 17, although thoroughly indoctrinated into the notion of worshipping many different gods, believed the gospel message Paul shared and some were willing to embrace Christianity and the notion of only one God. They left their indoctrinated faith behind. My prayer is the same as Paul's was - "I pray that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment" (Phil. 1:9).

It is good to be an investigator. It is good to check things out for oneself. This type of person is always searching for the truth and asking questions like: "Why do I believe this way?" "Momma always said such-and-such, but is she right?" "This feels right, but is it truly right?" "Is what I have been taught in the past religiously actually true?" These are good questions to be asking. It is good to have and maintain an investigating faith.

There are some good Bible examples of this level of faith. Consider Acts 17:11 for instance - "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." I can almost hear the Bereans saying: "What Paul says makes sense, but let's see what the Scriptures say." Another example is found in Thomas in John 20:24-29. Thomas knew his friends were honest, but he also thought they could be honestly mistaken. He wanted to investigate the evidence for himself. There is nothing bad about this desire.

Our faith must be founded upon God's word; otherwise it cannot be true. It is never wrong to investigate what you hear or are taught--truth has nothing to hide! I plead with you today to please search the Scriptures for yourself and study the Bible for yourself--don't just blindly embrace what I teach or what anyone else teaches! It is right to ask questions when you are searching for the truth and not just conform to what others believe. And, of course, if something is being taught that is not true, I need to be corrected. An investigating faith can lead us to true faith and keep us true to the faith.

This is where God wants us to be! He wants us to have a personal faith; a faith that we own. A faith based on private study and reflection.

Paul stated in I Corinthians 2:4,5 - "And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." Paul desired that these Christians grow in personal faith. That should be the desire of every teacher and preacher today in the church.

Too often people try to borrow faith from others. People want to have strong faith but they want others to do all the work (i.e., all the studying and thinking for them)! But that will never work. Other people cannot go to heaven for you--and neither can they think or act for you! We need to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (cf. Phil. 2:12).

This is one reason why so many young people fall away in our society. They grow up in the church and inherit the faith of their parents. Or, perhaps they are indoctrinated but are easily led astray since they do not have an investigating faith. If a person has an investigating faith and an individual faith, the likelihood of them falling away from the truth is significantly less. When we have a faith that is personal and owned, we have saving faith - "receiving the end of your faith--the salvation of your souls" (I Pet. 1:9).

Dear listeners, what is your level of faith? Is it the inherited faith of your family? Is it the indoctrinated faith of a church? Is it the investigative faith of learning? Is it the individual faith that saves?

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.