prayer, bible, christian

Critical Moments of Faith

Two young North Korean men were walking down the road when soldiers confronted them. The soldiers grabbed one of the men, knocked him to the ground, and accused him of being a Christian. He did not deny the accusation. He just looked directly at his friend’s eyes, and with a peaceful look on his face, said only, “Bless them.” In this critical moment of faith, with his life in the balance, the young man stood as a witness to Christ’s love to his friend and the soldiers. His friend fled as the soldiers killed the young Christian.

His friend ran home to tell his mother what had happened. His mother responded simply that she understood. Perplexed by her response, he asked her how she could possibly understand. So she shared with him for the first time that she also was a Christian and told him of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He realized that Christ was calling him. He had reached his first, and greatest, critical moment of faith. He then and there made the choice to follow Jesus, surrendered his life entirely to Christ, and began his ministry.

Jesus called that young man, and he responded in faith, several years ago. Shortly after that moment, the young man crossed the Yalu River into China from his home in North Korea seeking bibles. Doing so is criminal in China and North Korea. He eventually made contact with a US organization, Voice of the Martyrs. In 2001 he smuggled approximately 5000 Korean-language bibles into North Korea and is using them to spread the Gospel where the price for doing so may be death. He heard the call of God’s grace and responded in faith —- complete, total, life-changing faith.

The similarity, and consistency, between the young Korean’s experience and the stories of Abram and Matthew is remarkable. Each situation reveals people who hear the call of God’s promise to redeem them through His grace, and respond with immediate, radical, permanent, and complete submission to God in faith.

Abram was called to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household to go to a country that God would show him. God promised to make a great nation through his children in that country. Now Abram was 75 years old at the time — way past the time for he and his wife to have children. Scripture does not tell us why he was chosen. This was at a time of pagan religions and idols before God delivered the law to Moses, so Abram could not have stood righteous before God by following the law. But we can perhaps understand why Abram was chosen by his response. Genesis 12:4 states: “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him.” Very simply, Abram trusted God and followed Him. He responded to God’s grace with a complete and total act of faith. He didn’t know where he was going. At 75 years, all logical evidence of the world was that he and his wife Sarai were not going to have children. But Abram responded in faith. In the critical moment when God called, he responded in faith and followed God’s plan, no matter how seemingly improbable, rather than keeping to his own plan.

We see the same process at work in our reading about Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector. He undoubtedly was wealthy and enjoyed a certain status with the Romans, but was considered a terrible sinner by the Jews. He had position and wealth; measures of success recognized throughout history. Yet when God stood before him through Jesus’ call to follow, Matthew makes a complete change in the direction of his life by immediately answering the call to follow Jesus. He doesn’t know what is ahead or where he is going, but he gets up and follows.  At the critical moment, when God called in grace to him, a sinner, Matthew responded completely in faith.

It is this interaction between the call of God’s grace and our response in faith that Paul addresses in today’s reading from Romans. Paul emphasizes that Abraham was made righteous by his faith, not from a life lived in accordance with the law. His redemption was through the action of God. Abraham did not earn it. God’s promise to him was wholly the product of God’s grace. Abraham simply claimed that promise by relying completely on faith that God would fulfill that promise.

That same promise of redemption by faith is what God offers to us through Christ. The promise that God started with Abraham and Sarah He fulfilled in Jesus. As Paul says in Romans 4: 20-25:

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

It is when we respond to God’s grace offered us through Jesus that God fulfills that promise in us by redeeming us and bringing us back into a relationship with Him. It is in the choices we make at the critical moments of faith that our relationship with God is defined.

But there is a trap for us here. Faith requires trust in God to direct our lives and surrender to His plan, no matter how improbable that may seem by the standards and expectations of the world. Righteousness comes to us because of that faith; faith does not come to us by righteous actions. As we saw with Matthew, he was a sinner. He had done nothing to justify his redemption from that state of sin. Yet when Jesus called in grace, Matthew simply followed on faith. He was not a righteous man, but just like Abram, was made righteous by his faith.

Although righteous acts without faith gain nothing, how often do we see followers of Christ fall prey to the temptation toward legalism. The perspective that “I want to go to heaven so I have to be good” too often seems to be the guiding beacon of many Christians rather than faith. We tell ourselves that we are right with God because we come to church on Sunday, serve on committees, go on mission trips, or work in soup kitchens to earn “stars in our crowns.” Or perhaps even more troubling we see people and church leaders playing out their political agendas as purported inspired works of Christian righteousness. We hear all the time, for example, that Christians should support gun control; Christians should oppose homosexuals; Christians must do this, oppose that, or vote for someone or something.

We are so tempted to put our own rules and plans in place to do what we think will help God. Not even Abraham was immune, for when it appeared that God’s plan for children was faltering, Abraham decided to fall back on the pagan practice of polygamy to father a son by Hagar, rather than wait for God to fulfill His plan. I fear that we focus way too much on what we are doing or should be doing, instead of listening to God’s call as to what he wants to accomplish through us and answering in faith. God’s call too often takes a back seat to our plans, and our faith becomes faith in ourselves and our plans, not God.

The critical moments of faith I’ve reviewed today have revealed the consistency through the ages of God’s plan of redemption through grace and faith. Yet they also have been dramatic, life-changing moments. We face such a critical moment when we are called to accept Jesus in our lives. If you have not answered that call then such a critical moment awaits you — perhaps even today. But we are not all called to risk death or pay that price, to leave our homes, or to abandon our careers. But we are called. Each time we are presented with an opportunity to witness to Christ’s presence in our lives, through either our words or actions, so that one more person may hear Jesus calling in his or her life, we are called to a critical moment of faith. Each day Jesus calls us to trust Him with all aspects of our lives; to live that day according to His plan. And He gives us a fresh start every day even though we sin, a fresh chance every moment to claim anew His promise and live the next moment by trusting completely on His grace; by allowing Him to lead us in faith. So search your hearts now. Is Jesus there everyday? Do you invite Him in? Do you give Him your complete faith daily and share it with others? Do your friends at work and school know that being a Christian means more to you than a church membership card? What choices are you making in your daily critical moments of faith?

To live life in Christ means surrendering your life to faith. Doing so is scary. When you do, you don’t know where you are going; only who is taking you. Just as smuggling bibles into Korea, leaving home for an unknown land, or leaving a career to follow an unknown rabbi had to be hard, it is hard to tell others of your faith in a time when doing so is considered exclusive and not popular. It is hard to live by faith when we live in a time that encourages us to focus on ourselves, our plans, and our desires. But unless you live by faith, you cannot enter into the relationship that God intends for us to have with Him. So as Abraham, Matthew, Paul and the millions who have gone before us in faith did, let us commit that our choices, in our critical moments, will rest in faith in Christ alone.

© 2009, Thomas M. Trezise

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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