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#150 Questions of Faith

March 01, 2010
Q

Dear Dr. Craig,

Let me just say I love your work it has helped numerous times. Anyway my question is regarding spiritual failure. I have heard your recent reasonable faith podcast regarding this topic. You were talking about ex Christians losing their faith. I will be straight forward. Ever since I started to doubt it has token a toll on my spiritual life and I feel that I am heading the same way the ex Christians went. Ever since I started studying more and more apologetics I have become intellectually proud or vain. Anyway I would like some advice on how not to fall away from faith.

Sincerely,

Christopher

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

Questions of Faith

I think the most hopeful aspect of your question, Christopher, is your honesty in recognizing your own intellectual pride and vanity and realizing that it is precisely factors of this nature, rather than purely intellectual issues, that pose the greatest danger to our persevering in the faith. Scripture warns, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (Jas 4.6). How dreadful it would be to find God actually opposing us because of our pride and ambition!

One of my greatest concerns as a Christian is that I might somehow fall away from the faith and so betray Christ. It would be the height of folly and presumption to think that this could not happen. Think of what happened to Judas. It's amazing that a man who was one of the original twelve disciples, who had been for years in such close proximity to Jesus, should in the end turn against him. Is it then any wonder that we can similarly fall away and betray Christ? Paul speaks of several whom he knew who had left the faith (1 Tim 1.20; 2 Tim 2.17; 4.10). He warns, "Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10.12). Paul included himself in that admonition, "lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor 9.27). If someone of Paul's spiritual stature and commitment took seriously this danger, how much more should we? Paul urges us, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith" (2 Cor 13.5).

Questions of Faith – Important guidelines for staying strong in the faith

So how can we avoid falling away? I don't think there is any sort of simple recipe, but 2 Pet 1.5-11 provides some important guidelines:

For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Look at the promise here: "If you do this, YOU WILL NEVER FALL." What a wonderful promise! This is exactly what we are looking for, and so we need to pay close attention to the text. What is striking about the conditions of this promise is that they are primarily moral and spiritual in nature. We are advised to supplement our faith with seven character qualities:

Faith +

virtue
knowledge
self-control
perseverance
godliness
brotherly kindness
love

Moreover, we are to pursue this character formation with utmost diligence: "make every effort. . . ." This is intentional; it doesn't just happen.

Now what are these qualities? I'd encourage you to do a biblical study of them. Virtue means moral excellence. We're to become good persons, reflecting God's holiness. Knowledge implies a solid grasp of Christian doctrine. This is part of spiritual maturity, as Paul emphasizes, "that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4.14). This is the one intellectual quality in the list. Self-control means self-mastery, which implies the ability to control one's lusts, temper, tongue, and desires. We all know how easy it is to be just carried along by one's passions rather than having them under one's own control! But just as an athlete in training exercises self-control in all things, so we are to bring our passions under our control (1 Cor 9.5). Perseverance connotes endurance, being in it for the long haul, despite the ups and downs of life. We need to be long distance runners, not just sprinters, or we'll burn out. Godliness implies having a spiritual orientation to one's life rather than having a materialistic, consumer mentality which values and focuses on worldly goods (1 Tim 6.6-11). Brotherly kindness involves having a genuine affection and care for fellow Christians (Rom 12.10; 1 Jn 3.16-20a). Do we really care about them as persons, or are they just means to our ends? Finally, love is described in 1 Cor 13.4-7. We should strive to fit the description that Paul gives there. If we are diligent about inculcating this kind of character into ourselves, we are promised that we shall not be ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ.

Questions of Faith – The fruit of the Spirit aids our spiritual development

Now this might seem so daunting a task that it puts us under the pile rather than comforts us! How can we who are so weak and flawed realize these sorts of character qualities in ourselves? It might seem hopeless.

Ah, but here it's very interesting to compare this list of character qualities with the list Paul provides of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Gal 5.22-23)! Paul says the fruit of the Spirit is

love
joy
peace
patience
kindness
goodness
faithfulness
gentleness
self-control.

Here many of the same character traits are said to be the work of the Holy Spirit as we are submitted to Him: love, kindness, goodness, self-control. Furthermore, notice that faithfulness and patience in combination add up to perseverance. Moreover, since these qualities are the fruit of the Spirit, to have these qualities just is to have a spiritual orientation, or to be godly. So as we are filled with the Holy Spirit, that is, yielded and empowered by Him, He will produce the fruit of these qualities in our lives. We are not just on our own, gutting it out by our own efforts. Rather the key to character formation is being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, the one exception seems to be knowledge. That's something that we have to acquire through study of God's truth. But as we seek to gain knowledge, what can we do to combat the sin of intellectual pride?

First, we need to realize the primacy of love over knowledge in God's economy. Socrates said that he was the wisest man in Athens because he knew that he knew nothing! The apostle Paul, when confronted with Greek Gnostics, who touted the importance of knowledge, took a similar line. "Knowledge," he warned, "puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God" (1 Cor 8.1b-3). According to Paul, if we think we're so smart that we've got it all figured out about God, then in fact we don't know anything. We're just inflated intellectual blowhards. By contrast, the person who loves God is the one who has truly come to know Him. This has shattering implications for our proud intellectual attainments. It means that the simplest child of God who lives in love is wiser in God's sight than the most brilliant Bertrand Russell the world has ever seen.

Second, we need to realize the feebleness and finitude of our human knowledge. I can honestly testify that the more I learn, the more ignorant I feel. Further study only serves to open up to one's consciousness all the endless vistas of knowledge, even in one's own field, about which one knows absolutely nothing. I resonate with a statement Isaac Newton once made, reflecting back on his discoveries laid out in his great treatise on physics, the Principia mathematica. He said that he felt "like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." How feeble, uncertain, and unstable are our own intellectual attainments!

Finally, third, I want to pass on some advice from Hugh of St. Victor, who wrote in his Didascalion (1125):

Now the beginning of study is humility. Although the lessons of humility are many, the three which follow are of especial importance for the student: First, that he hold no knowledge and no writing in contempt; second, that he blush to learn from no man; and third, that when he has attained learning himself, he not look down upon everyone else.

- William Lane Craig