Faith in Action (8/6/13)

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Please take a moment and reflect on the following question: How do I define “faith” in Jesus Christ?

Even though we talk about faith all the time, it isn’t so easy to define it. According to the New International Dictionary of the Bible, “Faith is trust in the person of Jesus, the truth of his teaching, and the redemptive work he accomplished at Calvary, and, as a result, a total submission to him and his message, which are accepted as from God.” Basically, faith is submitting to Jesus because we believe he is who he said he is, he did what he said he’d do and that God sent him.

This brings us to another question: What should faith in Jesus look like in our lives?

Colossians 1:3-14 gives us a partial answer. It says,We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

The passage doesn’t give us specifics examples on how to live out our faith but it does give us the pattern God set forth for our faith to come alive:

1- We hear the gospel about Jesus and believe it.

2 – The gospel comes alive in us.

3 – We bear fruit by doing good works as we grow in knowledge of God.

This pattern is simple to understand. However, it isn’t always easy to put into practice. Let me explain by sharing the testimony of a woman I met while helping at a work camp for refugees in Greece. Out of respect for her and her situation, I won’t use her real name. I’ll call her Sarah.

One the second day of our camp with the refugees, I ate lunch at the same table with Sarah. As we made small talk, she told me she is from Iran. At one point in the conversation, I asked her, “Would you go back to Iran if you had the chance?” She looked at me and replied, “I can’t. If I go back they’ll execute me.”

She didn’t have time to elaborate. She had to go because she was in charge of the ministries to the refugees at the camp. Still, her comment got my attention. I have no idea what it’s like to know my country wants to kill me. Two days later, several members of our mission team had the opportunity to eat with her and hear why she can’t go home.

Sarah was born in Iran to parents who apparently had some financial means. Her dad owned an oil business. While she was growing up, she was somewhat of a rebel and got into some at school. Her dad pulled her out of public school and enrolled her in private school.

At this point, we need to stop and look at a couple of important points about living in Iran. In that country, a Muslim man is considered to be 1 person and a Muslim woman is ½ person. A Christian man is also ½ person but a Christian woman is only ¼ person.

It is legal to be a Christian in Iran if you’re born into a Christian family. Nonetheless, Christians can’t evangelize and all worship services have to be closed to the public. While Christianity is recognized, it’s illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. Muslims who leave Islam are considered to be apostates. In the Koran, there’s only one thing a person can do that will guarantee them entrance into heaven. Kill an apostate.

Christians in Iran face a lot of persecution and harassment. This leads many Christian parents to enroll their children in private schools. When Sarah’s dad enrolled her in one, she became classmates with a Christian girl. Sarah mocked her, especially when the girl was brave enough to talk about Jesus. Sarah asked her why in the world she should become a Christian and go from being ½ a person to ¼ a person.

Yet, through all of this, Sarah became friends with the girl. Eventually this girl invited Sarah to a Christian wedding but there was a problem. In Iran, people attending a Christian wedding need to have a Christian ID. Sarah was a Muslim. She and her friend readily solved the problem. They made Sarah a fake Christian ID card.

Sarah’s family owned some prime land on a hill that overlooked a royal palace. The government wanted to purchase it but her dad wouldn’t sell. Somehow the walls of their garden got destroyed. When Sarah’s family applied for permits to repair the walls, the government wouldn’t issue the permits. This led her family to acquire some guard dogs for protection.

One day a lady no one knew came to Sarah’s house because she needed directions. For some reason, the dogs hadn’t attacked her when she got out of the car. Sarah couldn’t understand why the dogs didn’t bother her but decided she’d better walk the woman back to her car. When the woman got back into her car, she handed Sarah a Bible and told her to read it. The woman drove off and no one ever saw her again. Eventually Sarah read the Bible.

After this, someone gave her the book 23 Years.  It was written by an Iranian author but it is somewhat critical of the prophet Muhammad. Iranians caught with this book are given the death penalty.

Sarah read the book and decided to give it to her cousin to read. When she left her house to go to her cousin’s, she made a huge mistake. She forgot to take her make-up off her face when she went outside. In Iran, it’s illegal for women to wear make-up. The police saw she was wearing it so they stopped her. As she was trying to wipe it off, the police were telling her how many lashes she could get for wearing make-up. At this point in her testimony, Sarah said, “I remember thinking ‘I don’t care how many lashes I get for wearing make-up. Just don’t look in my purse….They did. And inside they found a fake Christian ID, a Bible and the book 23 Years. I was in big trouble.’”

The police took her to the police station and put her in a cell. Twelve to fourteen hours later, a guard opened the door, put his hands over his eyes and said, “I can’t see.” She replied, “What do you mean ‘You can’t see?’” He looked at her and said, “Go.” Outside, her father was waiting for her. He’d paid the guard one year’s salary to let her escape. However, they couldn’t go home because the police would be coming for them.

They managed to hide and eventually escaped to Greece. The Iranian government soon seized their home and her father’s business.

Once in Greece, Sarah decided to go to church so she could prove Christianity wrong. If she could do this, she would be welcomed back in Iran and the charges would be dropped. She went to church but couldn’t find anything wrong with God’s love. Even though she wasn’t following Jesus yet, she couldn’t disprove it.

As her family worked at building new lives in Greece, she became severely depressed because of all the suffering she’d brought to her family. She attempted suicide but failed. Her depression continued and Sarah decided to try again. She was just moments away from attempting it again when her cousin from Iran called her. Her cousin said “A strange man came up to me and said I needed to call Sarah or I would never see her again.” God stopped her from taking her life.

She still couldn’t make a commitment to Jesus so she prayed, “God, I can’t do this on my own. If I’m going to follow Jesus, I need your help.” That night, and she doesn’t know if she was awake or asleep, a man came in her room and said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but through me.” At that moment, Sarah gave her life to Christ.

Now, she’s married with a family. Her and her husband have a ministry to evangelize Muslim refugees coming to Greece. This is an extremely difficult task. Muslim refugees constantly threaten to harm her. Six to eight Christian men have to escort her through the refugee camps because the devout Muslims don’t like Christians evangelizing them. The Iranian government knows where she is and occasionally they threaten her.

Yet, through faith, Sarah keeps proclaiming Jesus. She heard the gospel about Jesus and believed it. The gospel comes alive in her. She’s bearing fruit through good works as she grows in knowledge about God.

Earlier we looked at the definition of faith and asked what should faith look like in our lives. Now let me ask you one final question: What does faith in Jesus look like in your life? You aren’t called to flee your country because of your faith. However, we’re all called to live a life of faith wherever we may be.

Are you?