Category: faith


Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota, once said, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.” Agreeing with him is pornographer Larry Flynt, who commented, “There’s nothing good I can say about it [religion]. People use it as a crutch.” Ted Turner once simply said, “Christianity is a religion for losers!” Ventura, Flynt, Turner, and others who think like them view Christians as being emotionally feeble and in need of imaginary support to get through life. Their insinuation is that they themselves are strong and in no need of a supposed God to help them with their lives.

Such statements bring a number of questions: Where did such thinking start? Is there any truth to it? And how does the Bible respond to such assertions?

Is faith in God a crutch? – The Impact of Freud
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an Austrian neurologist who founded the practice of psychoanalysis, a system espousing the theory that unconscious motives dictate much of human behavior. Though championing atheism, Freud admitted that the truth of religion could not be disproved and that religious faith has provided comfort for untold numbers of people through history. However, Freud thought the concept of God was illusionary. In one of his religious works, The Future of an Illusion, he wrote, “They [believers] give the name of ‘God’ to some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves.”

As to the motivation for creating such illusions, Freud believed two basic things: (1) people of faith create a god because they have strong wishes and hopes within them that act as comfort against the harshness of life; (2) The idea of God comes from the need for an idyllic father figure that eclipses either a non-existent or imperfect real father in the life of a religiously-minded person. Speaking of the supposed wish-fulfillment factor in religion, Freud wrote, “They [religious beliefs] are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind. We call belief an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation and in doing so we disregard its relation to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification.”

For Freud, God was nothing more than a psychological projection that served to shield an individual from a reality he does not want to face and cannot cope with on his own. After Freud came other scientists and philosophers who asserted the same thing and said that religion is just an illusion/delusion of the mind. Robert Pirsig, an American writer and philosopher who typifies Freud’s followers, has said, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it’s called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it’s called religion.”

What about the above charges? Is there any truth to the assertions made by Freud and others?

Examining the Claims of the “Crutch Crowd”
When making an honest examination of these claims, the first thing to recognize is what those making the assertions are claiming about themselves. Deriders of religion are saying that Christians are prone to psychological and wish-fulfillment factors that they, the skeptics, are not. But how do they know that? For example, Freud saw the need for a Father God as an outworking of emotionally needy people desiring a father figure, but could it be that Freud himself had an emotional need for no father figure to exist? And perhaps Freud had an outworking of wish-fulfillment that manifested in not wanting a Holy God and judgment in the afterlife to exist, a wish for hell not to be real. Demonstrating the plausibility of such thinking is the writing of Freud himself who once said, “The bad part of it, especially for me, lies in the fact that science of all things seems to demand the existence of a God.”

It would seem reasonable to conclude, as Freud and his followers have argued in their position, that the only way a person could overcome “demanding” black-and-white evidence of something is by creating an illusionary hope that overpowers the verifications of God’s existence, and yet they do not consider this a possibility for them. Some atheists, however, have honestly and openly admitted this likelihood. Serving as one example, atheist Professor/Philosopher Thomas Nagel once said, “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

Another consideration to keep in mind is that not all aspects of Christianity are comforting. For example, the doctrine of hell, the recognition of humankind as sinners who are unable to please God on their own, and other similar teachings are not of the warm-and-fuzzy kind. How does Freud explain the creation of these doctrines?

An additional thought that springs from the above question is why, if humankind merely invents the concept of God to make itself feel better, would people fabricate a God who is holy? Such a God would seem to be at odds with people’s natural desires and practices. In fact, such a God would seem to be the last type of god they would come up with. Instead, one would expect people to create a god who agrees with the things they naturally want to do instead of opposing the practices that they themselves (for some reason yet to be explained) label as “sinful.”

One last question is how do the “crutch” claims explain people who initially were hostile to religion and did not want to believe? Such people seemingly had no wish or desire for Christianity to be true, yet after an honest examination of the evidence and an acknowledgement of its “realness,” they became believers. English scholar C. S. Lewis is one such person. Lewis is famous for saying there was no more reluctant convert in all of England than himself, that he was literally dragged kicking and screaming into the faith, which is hardly a statement that one would expect from a person engaged in a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

These issues and questions seem to be at odds with the claims of the “crutch” crowd and are conveniently ignored by them. But what does the Bible have to say about their claims? How does it answer their charges?

Is Faith in God a Crutch? – How Does the Bible Respond?
There are three core responses that the Bible makes to the claim that people have invented the idea of God as a crutch for themselves. First, the Bible says that God created people for Himself and designed humankind to naturally desire a relationship with Him. Of this fact, Augustine wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” The Bible says that humankind is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). This being true, isn’t it reasonable to believe that we feel a desire for God because we have been created with this desire? Shouldn’t a divine fingerprint and the possibility of relationship between creature and Creator exist?

Second, the Bible says that people actually act in the reverse way from that which Freud and his followers claim. The Bible states that humankind is in rebellion against God and naturally pushes Him away instead of desiring Him, and that such rejection is the reason the wrath of God comes upon them. The reality is people naturally do everything they can to suppress the truth about God, which is something Paul wrote about: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:18–22). The fact that God is clearly evident in creation to all, as stated in Paul’s words, is nicely summed up by C. S. Lewis, who wrote, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.”

Freud himself admitted that religion was “the enemy,” and this is exactly how God depicts humankind before being spiritually enlightened—as the enemies of God. This is something Paul also acknowledged: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10, emphasis added).

Third, the Bible itself states that life is difficult, hardships are common, and a fear of death is experienced by all. These are truths that are easily seen in the world around us. The Bible also says that God is there to help us get through hard times and assures us that Jesus has overcome the fear of death. Jesus Himself said, “In the world you have tribulation,” which speaks to the fact that difficulties in life exist, but He also said, “Take courage” and said His followers should look to Him for ultimate victory (John 16:33).

The Bible says that God cares for and helps His people and that He commands His followers to help one another as well and bear each other’s burdens (cf. Galatians 6:2). Speaking of God’s concern for people, Peter wrote, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7, emphasis added). Jesus’ famous statement also speaks to this fact: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

In addition to daily help, the fear of death has also been overcome by Christ. Through His resurrection, Jesus proved that death has no power over Him, and God’s Word says that Christ’s resurrection was proof of the resurrection and eternal life of all who put their trust in Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20). The release from the fear of death is a truth proclaimed by the writer of Hebrews, who said, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself [Jesus] likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14–15, emphasis added).

So, indeed, the Bible speaks about God’s care, concern, and help for His creation. Such truth does indeed bring comfort, but it is a comfort that it is grounded in reality and not mere wish-fulfillment desire.

Is faith in God a crutch? – Conclusion
Jesse Ventura was wrong when he said that religion is nothing more than a crutch. Such a statement speaks to the prideful nature of man and epitomizes the type of people rebuked by Jesus in the book of Revelation: “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

The wish-fulfillment claims of Freud, Ventura, and others only act as an indictment against themselves and showcase their desire to reject God and His claim to their lives, which is exactly what the Bible says fallen humankind does. But to these same people, God asks that they recognize their true desires and offers Himself in the place of the false hope of humanism that they cling to.

The Bible’s statements regarding the fact and evidence of Christ’s resurrection bring comfort and real hope—hope that does not disappoint—and instruct us to walk in a way that trusts God and recognizes our true “weak” position before Him. Once that is done, we become strong, just as Paul said, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Little ThingsMany people struggle with their faith at different times in their lives. Some of the most committed and godly leaders have struggled with doubts, just like everyone else. The very essence of faith is to believe in that which we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). As physical beings, we tend to put faith in what we experience with our senses. Spiritual realities are not tangible and must be experienced outside our senses. So, when that which is tangible and visible seems overwhelming, doubts can shroud that which is invisible.

The first aspect to consider is the object of faith. The word faith has become popular in recent years, but the popular meaning is not necessarily the same as the biblical meaning. The term has become synonymous with any religious or irreligious adherence, regardless of whether there is foundational truth upon which to base such adherence. In other words, someone could claim “faith” in dandelions for spiritual healing, and that claim would be considered equally viable to the Christians’ claim that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. So, when struggling with “faith,” it is vital to define the object and reasonableness of that faith. All faith claims are not equal. Before we can be secure in our faith, we must answer the question: my faith is in what?

Many hold to the idea of having faith in faith. Faith itself is seen as the object, rather than God Himself. The biblical purpose for faith is to bring us into the presence of God. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” We can only find Him when we come to Him through faith in His Son (John 14:6). Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” God does not bless half-hearted attempts to know Him. He desires that we pursue Him with passion, the same way He pursues us (1 John 4:19).

However, God understands our inability to exercise the faith we need at times. In Mark 9:24, a man admitted to Jesus that he wanted help with His unbelief. Jesus did not rebuke the man, but healed the man’s child anyway. He honored the man’s desire to grow in faith and was pleased that He, Jesus, was the object of that faith. So, if we have the desire to believe what the Bible teaches, then we have the right foundation for continuing to fight for faith. God has given us countless evidences of His existence and character (Psalm 19:1; Luke 19:38–40). Jesus fulfilled all prophecies necessary to validate His claim to be the Son of God (Matthew 2:15–17; 13:25; 27:35; John 12:38). The Bible has been proven true over and over again for thousands of years. We have all the evidence we need, but God leaves the believing up to us.

It can be encouraging to remember that, when we struggle with faith, we are in good company. Elijah the prophet experienced such a struggle. One of the greatest prophets of all time had just called down fire from heaven, killed over 400 false prophets, and outrun King Ahab’s chariot—a feat that would have been the envy of any Olympic gold-medalist (1 Kings 18:36–38, 46). Yet the next chapter finds Elijah hiding in a cave, depressed and asking for death (1 Kings 19:3–5). After all those miracles, he gave in to fear and doubt because a wicked woman hated him (1 Kings 19:2). During times of stress and exhaustion, we can easily forget all that God has done for us.

John the Baptist was another who struggled with faith when at the lowest point in his life. Jesus had called John “the greatest in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 11:11). John had been selected by God before birth to be forerunner of the Messiah (Luke 1:11–17, 76). He was faithful to that calling all of his life (Mark 1:4–8). Yet even John, after being imprisoned and sentenced to die, struggled with doubts about Jesus’ identity (Luke 7:20). He sent messengers to ask Jesus if He was truly the One sent from God. Jesus did not rebuke John in his weakness but instead sent him a message that only a student of the Scriptures as John was would recognize (Luke 7:22). He quoted from Isaiah 61 and reminded John that He alone had fulfilled that Messianic prophecy.

We learn from these heroes of faith that God is patient with us when we desire to believe (Psalm 86:15; 147:11). When we experience times of doubt, we must immerse ourselves in truth. We can bolster a sagging faith by reading scriptural accounts of God’s miraculous interventions, listening to encouraging sermons, and reading books that appeal to our reason by authors such as C. S. Lewis or Lee Strobel. Podcasts by apologists such as Ravi Zacharias or Dr. John Lennox can also add fuel to the fire of our faith.

But the greatest power to overcome doubt comes from the Holy Spirit Himself, who “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). We can cry out as the man cried to Jesus, “I believe. Lord, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). And we can expect Him to answer.

We know what we are.The apostle Paul exhorts Christians to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). What we see here is a contrast between truth and perception—what we know and believe to be true and what we perceive to be true. This is where the Christian struggle with a lack of faith finds its basis. The main reason why so many Christians struggle with a lack of faith is that we follow our perceptions of what is true rather than what we know to be true by faith.

Perhaps before going any further it may be helpful to come up with a working definition of faith. Faith, contrary to popular opinion, is not “belief without proof.” This is the definition that many skeptics give for faith. This definition reduces faith to mere fideism—i.e., “I believe despite what the evidence tells me.” Skeptics are right to reject this concept of faith, and Christians should reject it, too. Faith is not belief without proof or belief despite the evidence; rather, faith is a complete trust or confidence in someone or something. That trust or confidence we have in someone is built up over time as he proves himself faithful time and time again.

Christianity is a faith-based religion. It is based on faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. God has provided us with His Word, the Holy Bible, as a testimony of His faithfulness to His people all throughout history. In its bare essentials, Christianity is faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ claimed to be the promised Messiah and the Son of God. His life was one of perfect righteousness according to the revealed Law of God, His death was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of His people, and He was raised to life three days after His death. When we place our faith and trust in Christ alone for our salvation, God takes our sin and places it on the cross of Christ and awards us, by grace, with the perfect righteousness of Christ. That, in a nutshell, is the Christian message. As Christians, we are called to believe this message and live in light of it.

Despite this, Christians still struggle with believing the biblical account because it doesn’t match up with our perception of reality. We may believe that Jesus was a real person, we may believe that He died by crucifixion at the hand of the Romans, we may even believe that He led a perfect life according to God’s Law, but we don’t “see” how faith in Christ makes us righteous before God. We can’t “see” Jesus atoning for our sins. We can’t “see” or “perceive” any of the great truths of Christianity, and, therefore, we struggle with lack of faith. As a result of this lack of perception, our lives often do not reflect the fact that we really believe what we claim to believe.

There are many reasons for this phenomenon among Christians. The main reason we struggle with faith is that we don’t truly know the God in whom we profess to have faith. In our daily lives, we don’t trust complete strangers. The more intimately we know someone and the more time we have had to see him “in action,” the more likely we are to believe what he says. But, if God is essentially a stranger to us, we are less likely to believe what He has said in His Word. The only cure for this is to spend more time in God’s Word getting to know Him.

The world, the flesh, and the devil often distract us. By “the world” is meant the accepted “wisdom” of the unbelieving world and the culture in which we find ourselves. For those of us living in Europe and North America, that dominant worldview is naturalism, materialism, skepticism, and atheism. “The flesh,” refers to our sinful nature that still clings to Christians and with which we struggle on a daily basis. “The devil” refers to Satan and his horde of evil spirits who excite and entice us through the world and our senses. These things all afflict us and cause us to struggle with faith.

That is why Christians need to be constantly reminded of what Christ has done for us and what our response should be. The apostle Paul says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Our faith is built up as we have the gospel continually preached to us. Our churches need to be built on the solid preaching of the Word and the regular observance of the ordinances. Instead, too many churches spend their time, energy, and resources on the creation of “programs” that neither feed the sheep nor draw a clear distinction between godliness and ungodliness.

Consider the example of the Israelites in the Old Testament. God had performed great miracles in rescuing His chosen people from slavery in Egypt—the Ten Plagues, the pillar of smoke and fire, and the crossing of the Red Sea. God brings His people to the foot of Mount Sinai, gives them the Law and makes a covenant with them. No sooner does He do this than the people begin to grumble and lose faith. With Moses gone up on the mountain, the people convince Aaron, Moses’ brother, to construct an idol (against God’s clear prohibition) for them to worship (Exodus 32:1–6). They were no longer walking by faith, but by sight. Despite all the clear miracles God did in their redemption, they lost faith and began to go on their perception.

That is why God instructed the new generation of Israelites before going into the Promised Land to continually remind themselves of what God had done for them: “And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). God knows that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38), and so He commands His people to be in constant remembrance of these things.

In conclusion, we need to heed the example of the disciple Thomas. When Thomas heard the stories of the resurrection, he wouldn’t believe them until he saw Jesus with his own two eyes. Jesus accommodated Thomas’ lack of faith by making an appearance to him and allowing him to see and touch Him. Thomas responds in worship, and Jesus says to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Many skeptics today echo Thomas’ sentiment: “Unless I see Jesus face to face, I will not believe!” We must not behave as the unbelievers do. We need to continually keep in mind Paul’s exhortation to walk by faith rather than sight. We learn in the book of Hebrews that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) because faith is believing the Word of God and acting upon it, not responding to our perceptions.

Keep your faithPsalm 9:7-10

How much do you trust God? Before answering, consider these scenarios. Do you really trust the Lord when everything seems out of control and He appears absent? . . . when He’s called you to move in a certain direction that seems illogical and risky? . . . when painful circumstances continue, making you wonder if the Lord really cares?

We all have times of doubt when our expectations of God are dashed by the reality of our situation. Many of us want to trust Him more but aren’t sure how to do so.

David reveals that the key lies in knowing the Lord (v. 10). Distance in our relationship with Him results in a lack of faith, but those who are intimately acquainted with Christ find it easier to trust Him wholeheartedly.

Whenever you are tempted to doubt, remember these three essential truths about the Lord:

• He is completely sovereign (Ps. 103:19). God has everything in His control even when we can’t perceive it.

• He is infinitely wise (Rom. 11:33-36). The Lord knows every side of the situation (inside and out) and every event (past, present, and future).

• He loves perfectly (Ex. 34:6). Without exception, He always chooses what is best for us, even if it’s not easy.

We grow in faith, not by trying harder to believe but, rather, by pursuing the Lord. This involves doing all we can to get to know Him—in particular, spending time in His Word and talking to Him in prayer. Then our trust in Him will grow as we learn that He never forsakes those who seek Him.

Ephesians 4:14-16

When it comes to spiritual maturity, we can’t simply take for granted that we’re growing. To evaluate personal progress, I’ve compiled a brief inventory of spiritual benchmarks. Check the list for an idea of how you’re doing. But remember, these items are just a place to start; see the Bible for a complete growth chart!

 We know we’re growing spiritually when we become increasingly aware of our sinfulness and weakness. As I read biographies of godly saints, it’s clear that they don’t “get better” with age and spiritual maturity. Instead, they become ever more sensitive to their dependence upon the Lord. Moreover, progress is apparent when we respond to sin with quick repentance. Failure to deal with sin is rebellion against God. Growing believers turn away from wrongdoing and embrace righteousness. As we live with the good results of dependence and repentance, our desire to obey intensifies, and the attraction of sin lessens.

Growth is also marked by an increase in two things—joy and struggle. Faith is often developed through hardship because living out the principles of trust and endurance help us “get it.” So we’ll see maturity in our relationship with God when we view trials and temptations as opportunities for growth.

Paul, David, and Daniel prove that adversity can help form spiritual giants. These men recognized sovereign God as the gatekeeper of their lives. We are maturing when we perceive whatever comes our way as being from Him, which also means that He’s working it for good (Rom. 8:28).

1 Peter 1:6-9

True faith is based on Scripture. True faith embraces its eternal principles. Genuine belief knows God is who God says He is. Genuine trust means God will do everything He’s promised. Such faith is worth sharing with others. This can be done in several ways.

We can verbally explain our beliefs on faith. We can also model a godly lifestyle. This is often a more effective way of influencing people for Christ. Spend time talking and listening about the ways God has worked in various situations in someone’s life. Now imagine what God could do in your life.

Prayer can have a profound influence on someone’s life. In those quiet moments, we learn to trust God when things look impossible. We also discover God is faithful. We can count on Him.

Consistency and perseverance are two other important parts of passing on our faith. Children look to see if we mean what we say. They want to see if we’ll still rely on God when trouble comes. We can use our trials to demonstrate how a godly person responds. As we live out our faith in a visible way, we pass on something far more valuable than gold or silver.

 

Forward by Faith

Genesis 12:1-20

Faith can be lulled to sleep when we are focused on our own comfort rather than God’s plan. Abraham did not fall into this trap. He traded the familiar for the unknown and received many blessings.

Living by faith is the right answer when God calls you to move forward. His call can come to us at any age and in any situation. Abraham was 75 when he began his journey. David was a shepherd boy when he was anointed to be king (1 Sam. 16:11-13). Paul encountered the Lord on his way to arrest Jewish believers in Damascus. After his conversion, he became the Lord’s representative to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-6). Our call may not be so dramatic, but it will always involve moving forward by faith.

Following the Lord will also include times of testing. Abraham, like all of us, had some successes and some failures. The initial call to leave his country was met with strong belief and immediate action. As a result, he received a promise of great blessing for him and his descendants. But encountering famine brought a different response—a sojourn to Egypt, deception about his relationship with Sarah, and chastisement from Pharaoh. Our response to God’s commands really matters. We can bring blessing or heartache through our actions.

Obeying God can be uncomfortable. Those close to us may question our motives or disagree with our decisions. And we ourselves may not want to do what He asks. But faith will keep us moving forward in obedience. It helps us stay the course and experience the blessings found in a relationship with Christ.

Hebrews 11:8-10

Abraham is one of the people in the Old Testament who have had a great impact on my spiritual walk. In his life, I see the necessity of living by faith.

Separation is oftentimes a part of our development as Christians. Before we can take on something new, the Lord may ask us to let go of something we already have.

In Genesis 12:1-3, God told Abraham he was going on a journey that would require leaving his country, his people, and his father’s household. Obedience meant saying goodbye to relationships and things dear to him. The only family that traveled with him were his wife and nephew; the life he knew in his homeland was left behind. But this godly man did not hesitate. His strong faith enabled him to say yes.

Moving ahead in the midst of uncertainty can be another aspect of following the Lord. Abraham was told to travel without knowing his destination. Try to imagine explaining to friends that you’re moving away but have no idea where you are going. This lack of detail did not stop Abraham. Unwavering trust in his heavenly Father enabled him to answer the divine call wholeheartedly—even though specific details were lacking. Abraham was spiritually ready to answer affirmatively when God called.

Following God requires living by faith, which means: trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us (John 16:13) when we don’t see how all the pieces fit together; believing that God always works for our good (Rom. 8:28) and His glory; and desiring to please our Father. Will you be ready when He calls?

Unfortunately, all Christians have feelings of spiritual emptiness from time to time. Fortunately, God knew it would happen and has given us a lot of helpful advice in His Word.

It is often sin that causes our feelings of spiritual emptiness—possibly the sin of apathy toward God or sluggishness in our daily lives. Also, how we feel physically can impact how we feel spiritually. So the best advice to overcome feelings of spiritual emptiness might be to first examine if we have been disobedient to God’s commands for us. Ephesians 5:15–18 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Then, we should make sure we are doing all right physically—are we getting enough sleep, eating properly, etc.?

A Christian may feel spiritually empty sometimes, but he need never be truly so. No born-again Christian is ever without the Holy Spirit. All who are born again have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit the moment they believed in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1–10). The Holy Spirit has sealed each believer “for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).

So the key to overcoming spiritual emptiness is to “fill up” with the Holy Spirit. Maybe that sounds obvious enough, but how exactly does one do that? Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, in his booklet “Have You Made the Wonderful Discovery of the Spirit-Filled Life?” suggests these steps:

1) Sincerely desire to be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 5:6 and John 7:37–39).

2) Confess your sins and thank God that He has forgiven all of your sins whether past, present, or future (Colossians 2:13–15; 1 John 1:1—2:3).

3) Present every area of your life to God for His gracious control (Romans 12:1–2).

4) By faith claim the fullness of the Holy Spirit according to His commandment in Ephesians 5:18 and His promise in 1 John 5:14–15.

In doing those four steps, you are essentially doing spiritual breathing—exhaling the impure and inhaling the pure. In faith you are praying for what God already knows you need—the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Often in allowing the Spirit to fill oneself, there will be an immediate desire to dine on God’s daily bread—the Bible. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

It is also helpful to know where to turn for encouragement. Overcoming feelings of spiritual emptiness is often not a mental or academic exercise; rather, we need the personal touch of another born-again believer. Here is where the church comes in, with brothers and sisters everywhere, Bible study and support groups meeting locally, and, of course, worship services and the preaching of God’s Word. What a shame to dwell on spiritual emptiness, when brothers and sisters would love to help.

In his epistle, James makes the statement “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). Faith without works is dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart. There are many Scriptures that make it very clear that true saving faith will result in a transformed life, which is demonstrated by the “works” we do. How we live reveals what we believe and whether the faith we profess to have is a living faith.

James 2:14–26 is sometimes taken out of context in an attempt to create a works-based system of righteousness, but that is contrary to many other Scriptures. James is not saying that our works make us righteous before God, but he is making it clear that real saving faith is demonstrated by good works. Works are not the cause of salvation; works are the evidence of salvation. The person who claims to be a Christian but lives in willful disobedience to Christ with a life that shows no works has a false or dead faith and is not saved. James is clearly making a contrast between two different types of faith—truth faith that saves and false faith that is dead.

Many profess to be Christians, but their lives and their priorities indicate otherwise. Jesus put it this way: “By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers’” (Matthew 7:16–23).

Notice that the message of Jesus is the same as the message of James. Obedience to God is the mark of true saving faith. James uses the examples of Abraham and Rahab to show the type of works that demonstrate salvation, and both of those examples are of people who obeyed God in faith. Saying we believe in Jesus does not save us, nor does religious service. What saves us is the Holy Spirit’s regeneration of our hearts, and that regeneration will be seen in a life of faith demonstrated by ongoing obedience to God.

Misunderstanding the relationship of faith and works comes from a misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches about salvation. There are really two errors in regards to the relationship between works and faith. The first error is the gospel of “easy believism.” This error is the belief that one can “make a decision for Christ” or “pray a prayer of salvation,” and based upon that profession of faith salvation occurs. This is also called “decisional regeneration” and is dangerous and deceptive. Often those who advocate this view of salvation say that once a person has prayed the sinners’ prayer or made a profession of faith he is saved regardless of how he lives afterwards. This leads to the creation of a new category of person called the “carnal Christian” in order to excuse the ungodly lifestyles of many who have made a one-time profession of faith in Christ. Yet, as we can see in James and other verses of Scripture, this type of profession of faith that does not result in a life of obedience to Christ is in reality a dead faith that does not save.

The other error in regards to the relationship between works and faith is to make works part of what justifies us before God. The mixture of works and faith together creates a works-based system of righteousness which is totally contrary to what Scripture teaches. There is no conflict between Romans 4:5, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,” and what James wrote when he said, “Faith without works is dead.” Works come from true faith and a heart that has been justified by God by faith alone. The works that follow salvation do not make us righteous before God; they simply flow from a heart that has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit as naturally as water flows downhill.

Understanding the relationship between faith and works is important because it helps us avoid the errors mentioned above. Saying we believe in Christ does not save us, nor does praying a prayer of salvation or making a “decision” for Christ. Salvation is a sovereign act of God whereby unregenerate sinners have the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” poured out on them (Titus 3:5), thereby causing them to be born again (John 3:3). When this happens, God gives them new hearts and puts a new spirit within them (Ezekiel 36:26). God removes their sin-hardened hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh and fills them with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who causes them to walk in obedience to His statues and judgments (Ezekiel 36:26–27).

Faith without works is dead because it reveals a heart that has not been transformed by God. When we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, our lives will demonstrate that by the way we live and our works of obedience to God. It will be evident by the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22) and a desire to obey God and live a life that glorifies Him. Christians belong to Christ, and as His sheep they hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:26–30).

True saving faith is always manifested by good works and a life that desires to live in obedience to God. Ephesians 2:8–10 makes it clear that works do not save us but that we are saved “for good works which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them.” When we are truly born again we will have hearts that are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s law is written in our hearts so that we might walk in His statutes and judgments. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Faith without works is dead because it comes from a heart that has not been regenerated by God. It is an empty profession of faith from someone to whom Christ will say, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.”