Are There Two Definitions Of Faith?

Text: Matthew 15:21-28 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I sometimes wish all of you could wear a clergy collar just for a day, not to prove anything to you or make you feel the burdens of the pastoral office. But instead, it would be neat for you to experience all the spiritual conversations about faith that happen at the hospital, Walmart, and mall – to name a few.  You see, when I go for lunch, when I go to the hospital, or when I swing by Walmart, the grocery store, or the bank after I am done working for the day, I typically leave my clergy collar on, which then leads me to have spiritual conversations with strangers.  To be honest, it is quite fun.  People will notice the collar, and I will either get a scowl or a gentle smile.  For those that smile, sometimes they strike up a conversation.   These are the ones who are excited to see the clergy collar and are eager to talk about spiritual things, things like: 

- Can we talk to the dead? 

- Do I believe in demons? 

- Does God speak to us through mysterious circumstances?

- And my personal favorite, what does the Bible say about UFOs?  

Needless to say, it is quite amazing how many conversations I have because of a simple piece of white plastic over my neck.  

Now, the reason why I bring this up to you is that one of the things I try to do is ask these people if they have a church home.  If they do, I say, “God be praised!” and leave it at that.  If they do not have a church home, I invite them here to St. Paul’s Lutheran.  However, as soon as I invite them to St. Paul’s, nine times out of ten, the response is the same, 
“You know, I am not really into church.  I have faith; I believe in God, but I do my own thing; God is there when I need him.” 
Now, since most of these conversations occur in the check-out lines, there never is enough time to respond.  And so, I simply reply, 
“Well, if you ever need a church family or a pastor, St. Paul’s Lutheran is here for you.”
Dear friends, this brings up an interesting predicament.  What do we do with these kinds of responses?  I am sure we all know a lot of people who say that they believe in God and that they have faith but then want nothing to do with God and the Christian faith.  And so, again, how do we make sense of this?  Well, for starters, we have to admit that this is hardly the kind of faith that Jesus exemplifies as ‘great faith.’  Compare the nonchalant ‘yeah, I believe in God kind of faith’ with the Canaanite woman from our reading in the Gospel of Matthew.  

In the Gospel of Matthew, we see that the Canaanite woman pleads before Jesus.  She actually goes on her knees and begs, saying, “Lord, help me!”
Clearly, what we hear from a great many people today and what we hear from our reading in the Gospel of Matthew are two different kinds of faith – two different definitions of faith.  

You see, there is a kind of faith that we can call ‘general faith.’  It can also be called ‘knowledge of God’ or ‘assent of God.’  In other words, many people throughout our world hold to a belief in God, and they will also acknowledge that Jesus historically existed and even died on the cross. These people consist of heathens and Deists.  In other words, many people will have a belief in the existence of God but not necessarily a God who intervenes in the universe.  Often, for these people, God is nothing more than an old grandfather who is only called upon when the times get tough. When they don’t call on God, they just leave him alone in the nursing home of heaven.  For them, they use God as a personal resource, turning him ‘on’ when they need him while being very flexible in their beliefs about Him.  (They change their view of God depending on the situation.)  And finally, they do this personally – they navigate spirituality on their own terms so that no one can interfere with their religious journey.  

Now, the problem with this kind of general faith is that this kind of general knowledge of God is also held by demons.  In fact, if you want to hear something jarring, listen up! Demons tend to have a better understanding of who God is than most people who adhere to this kind of thinking.  Yes, you heard that correctly; demons have a better doctrine and theology of who God is than many people who play these spiritual games.  

So, are we saying that this kind of general faith of God is not saving faith?  Yes, that is exactly what is being said today.  Dear friends, there is a huge difference between a person who gives a tip of the hat toward God while trying to justify their own version of spirituality and the Canaanite woman who throws her whole life at the feet of Jesus. There is a drastic difference between a person who says, 
“You know, I am not really into church.  I have faith; I believe in God, but I do my own thing; God is there when I need him.” 
Versus a person saying, 
“I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that I might be His own.”  
You see, the key question in all of this is not whether you and I tolerate God or are perhaps ‘for God’ in our own ways but rather whether we know that God is ‘for you and me’ through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  

Look back to our reading from the Gospel of Matthew again.  What made that Canaanite woman’s faith so great is not that she had a bunch of historical facts about God or that she did her spirituality on her own terms but that she cried out and clung to Jesus amid her total and complete helplessness.  

Dear friends, the Canaanite woman in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew is a picture of the Christian Church.  She is a picture of you and me.   She is a picture of saving faith.  Saving faith always cries out, always trusts, and always relies on Jesus. Indeed, she is a picture of you and me coming to this sanctuary every Sunday, confessing that we are nothing more than dogs – poor miserable sinners in thought, word, and deed, yet still rising up and coming before this altar to receive sips of wine and pieces of bread – the body and blood of the Lord.  This Canaanite woman is a picture of us coming to the throne of grace with all our suffering, all our trials, and all our uncontrollable situations because we know that the Lord is for you and me in His Word and Sacraments.  

You see, saving faith clings to Jesus and His Word of promise because saving faith knows that the Lord is ‘for us.’  And so, since the Lord Jesus Christ is for you and me through His life, death, and resurrection, you and I never stop returning to Christ again and again and again to receive His gifts.  

Perhaps to drive this point home a bit more, general faith can often be wrapped up in pride, self-sufficiency, and even idolatry, whereas saving faith is wrapped in helplessness, spiritual bankruptcy, and the bold cry of, “Lord, help me!”   

And that is the key!  The Lord does help!

Baptized Saints, the Lord Jesus Christ is always ‘for you’ with the forgiveness of sins.  And so, saving faith has nothing to do with your abilities, your intellect, your determination, your commitment, your will, or your moral achievements!  Instead, saving faith is created by Christ, trusts in Christ, and receives from Christ - as a beggar.  

Baptized Saints, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that we are self-sufficient, spiritually important, culturally significant, morally powerful, and self-righteous.  We are none of this!  Let us move on from this delusion to understand that we are the spiritual-bankrupt-insignificant-weak-failing-misfits that Christ bled and died for.  We are right there in the dirt, on our knees, with the Canaanite woman, receiving everything from Christ, as Christ says to you and me, 
“St. Paul’s Lutheran, great is your faith!”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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