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09.11.11, Intentional Faith Development, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 2 Peter 1:1-11

by on September 12, 2011

Is it possible to have faith without being part of the community? Not for long. Is it possible to be part of the community and not have faith? Definitely. Where are you?

Summary points

  • Understanding the relationship between faith and community
  • The nature of faith, its origins and development
  • Ways to develop faith
  • Some spiritual observations

One way to understand the life of faith is through a diagram that plots us relative to the faith we have and the community we share. The diagram looks like this.

Community and faith

The nature of the Christian church is to be in the upper right quadrant, where we have faith, and we are in community. Where the church is called, on the basis of Jesus’ example, is to the lower left quadrant, where there are people with no faith and no community. Some of us find ourselves, through habit or coercion, in the lower right quadrant, where we may go to worship, but struggle with faith.

For many years in the church we’ve observed a disturbing trend, among young people especially, where they move from the optimum upper right quadrant (growing up in the church and exercising faith), to the upper left quadrant (where they profess faith but no need for a community), which too often leads them to the lower left quadrant where they end up with no faith and no community.

Sometimes, when such people get married or have children, they will enter the lower right quadrant, coming back to the community but with no or little faith. But more often we’re observing the children of such people growing up with their parents in the lower left quadrant with no community and no faith.

Thus the value of intentional faith development becomes obvious. If we do not engage in it, we inevitably drift away from faith and community, and thus from God in Christ.

Before considering some of the practical aspects from these passages, it may be helpful to discuss the nature of initial faith. Where does faith come from? How does it begin?

To answer these questions, consider these statements from the 2 Peter passage.

  • 2 Pet. 1:1 addreses the letter to those “who have received faith.”
  • 2 Pet. 1:3 asserts that “Christ . . . has given us everything we need for a godly life.”
  • 2 Pet. 1:4 reiterates that in Christ, we are given these “great and precious promises.”
  • And finally, 2 Pet. 1:10 urges us to “confirm our calling and election.

All these passages reveal the foundational claim that initial faith is received as a gift from God. But consider these other statements from 2 Peter.

  • 2 Pet. 1:5 exhorts readers to “add to your faith . . .”
  • 2 Pet. 1:8 encourages readers that “if you possess these qualities in increasing measure . . .”

Thus it appears that while initial faith is a gift received from God, once received, it is our possession and something to which we may add.

It is up to us to add to our faith, and 2 Peter provides a list of qualities to add. At stake if we fail to add to our faith, is a state in which we are useless and unfruitful in God’s Kingdom, a state of nearsighted blindness, a state of forgetfulness of God’s grace (see verses 8-9).

Returning then, to the question of intentional faith development. Our passages today from Deuteronomy and 2 Peter both prescribe ways to preserve faith. The Deuteronomy passage, recited by observant Jews during morning and evening prayer, provides a liturgical formula for the preservation of faith. We are reminded of what Jesus will cite as the greatest and all-encompassing commandment, “to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength” (see Mark 12:28-31and Matthew 22:36-40). We are also instructed to remember this throughout the routines of our day, and especially to rehearse them with our children.

The passage from 2 Peter offers a list beginning with faith and progressing through goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, and mutual affection to love. It is unclear whether this list constitutes a chain in which successive qualities require the development of preceding ones, or whether one may add to faith any of the qualities in any sequence. But what is clear is that faith must be added to.

Some pastoral observations. The sequence “goodness, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance” evokes the Creation story from Genesis 1-3, in which humanity is called to abstain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They do not exercise self-control and perseverance in this single command given by God, and thus invite chaos to return to God’s ordered creation. Since by faith we receive Christ’s righteousness, we enjoy a return to goodness (consider Romans 3 and 2 Corinthians 5, for example). And as we grow in our knowledge, we each encounter our own opportunities to hear and heed God’s word in our lives, that is, to exercise self-control and perseverance in our fidelity to God’s commands.

Another interesting sequence is “godliness, mutual affection, and love.” While faith imputes Christ’s righteousness into our lives, it does not make us godly right away. Godliness is the result of adding to faith; it is the product of practicing faith. Furthermore, it is the exercise of godliness that allows us to exercise mutual affection towards one another in the community of faith, and to extend God’s love to those beyond the community of faith.

A final observation. Second Peter calls us to add these qualities to our faith in increasing measure, which suggests less a ladder image and more a spiral staircase. We will, as we mature in the spiritual life, return to these qualities again and again, adding them to our faith over and over, only at higher levels every time.

What we have here, from 2 Peter, is an organic development of faith, one the church needs to consider when intentionally developing faith within its community. It is like the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations observed by Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase. They are sequenced, but they are also inter-connected, such that one leads to the next, and all lead to each other. Thus Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity all serve to develop faith, and intentional faith development serves to cultivate the other five. (I invite you to look at the sermon summaries for the other four practices before and after this date on this blog.)

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • Which quadrant are you in? How does it affect your faith? What do you need to move into the upper right quadrant?
  • How well do you know the stories of God’s deliverance of God’s people, especially those contained in the Old Testament? How familiar are you with the guidance God gives throughout the Bible? These represent the content of our personal meditations and the lessons we are to pass on to our children, according to Deuteronomy 6.
  • Of the qualities listed by 2 Peter, which one could you being practicing right away? Pay attention to how it impacts your faith.
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