When was your faith first challenged?
For me, it was my freshman year in college, when I first met people who openly opposed Christianity. Before that, my faith was safe and easy, but when my new peers boldly questioned my beliefs, I stumbled, fearful and shocked. For a while, I was afraid to talk about faith issues, but eventually, those early experiences served to strengthen and confirm my faith in Jesus.
Now, in my 40s, I occasionally meet a believer who fearfully grasps his small beliefs and lashes out at anyone who challenges those beliefs. No offense, but faith can’t grow when we hold it so tightly, and it seems a miserable existence next to the broad confidence available to all who believe.
Paul saw this contrast when he finally made it to Rome.
Around AD59 or 60, the Jews in Jerusalem wanted to get rid of Paul as quickly as they could. Some even vowed to kill him (Acts 23:12). But when he arrived in Rome, the Jews there wanted to hear about Jesus and this new sect called “The Way.” Why the contrast? What’s the difference between these two groups of Jews?
I posit that the Jews in Rome had stronger faith than those in Jerusalem. Why? Because they had been challenged and questioned.
Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. –Philippians 2:12b
These Jews in Rome were confronted with other faith systems daily. They had to dig into their own beliefs and really know what was true. They had to make daily choices about following the guidelines of their faith. Some even defended Judaism in public forums.
Jews in Jerusalem, however, were surrounded by other Jews. They had gotten complacent, allowing their faith to be more of a national identity than a life-informing, daily influence. The faith of Jerusalem Jews was weak—not their knowledge but the actual working out of their faith in daily life. They knew more than anyone, but they hadn’t tested all that knowledge. As a result, they were afraid of conflict, afraid of things changing, afraid of trying something new. Isn’t that why they killed Jesus? Because he was trying to do something new.
You know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. –James 1:3-4
Spiritual maturity is the result of testing, and confrontations with those who believe differently is one form of testing.
I’m reminded of modern discussions about social media “bubbles” in which we’re only seeing and interacting with people who already think like us. A recent Washington Post op-ed suggested social media algorithms generate an “echo chamber” for the user in which we only see posts with which we agree (reference). How can our faith be tested in such an environment? (Also see my previous post, Lean In, Listen, and Learn.)
When Paul arrived in Rome, the Jews weren’t afraid to sit down and talk with him, to hear his story and draw their own conclusions (Acts 28:21-22). Paul couldn’t have asked for more.
Like everywhere he went, however, not all the Jews who listened to Paul became believers (Acts 28:24). That’s okay. Some did.
Another benefit of their strong faith was that the group could manage disagreement. If the people in a church or small group have no practice discussing/defending their faith, they won’t know how to handle internal dissent when it arises…and it will arise. A bunch of believers who have rooted their faith in the Word and tested it in the world will persevere through an internal conflict much better than their weak-faithed counterparts.
Friends, be like the Roman Jews: unafraid to hear a challenge or consider a different point of view. When your faith is strong, you can take challenges from outside and disputes from within. Nothing will destroy your faith!
Our faith is strengthened by challenges. There’s no need to be afraid of someone who thinks/believes differently. Don’t isolate yourself for fear of losing your faith! Any #confrontation is #NotAboutMe.Tweet
Have you had your faith challenged? How did you feel and how did you respond? I hope you did better than I that first time. Please let us know in the comments below. Thanks.