Author Topic: Can faith increase? What would it look like?  (Read 1723 times)

George Rahn

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #15 on: February 28, 2021, 11:14:57 PM »
Cf.  Mark 9:23-24

David Garner

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #16 on: March 01, 2021, 09:18:18 AM »
I would think Sanctification is one of the true gems of Lutheranism, Thomas, not its Achilles Heel. At its heart, it results FROM the mystical union which results from justification. God forgives us and justifies us so that He can safely “move in” (i.e., without His holiness wiping us out!) and the Holy Spirit begins a process of renewal that reaches from that moment out to our resurrection. True, as we always say, it’s rather a weak beginning (not because of HIM, but because of us), but it is a genuine beginning nonetheless. And so we do indeed live under God’s pardon till the end (as Augustine put it so well). I think the Lutheran doctrine of sanctification and the new life is a source of abounding joy; it destroys the acedia that would make us just want to give up. As Luther said so unforgettably:

This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness;
  not health, but healing;
  not being, but becoming;
  not rest, but exercise.
  We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way;
  the process is not yet finished, but it has begun;
  this is not the goal, but it is road;
  at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified.
    - Martin Luther, A Defense and Explanation of All Articles (AE 32:24)

I have never seen that quote from Luther.  It is a true gem.  Thank you for sharing it.
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Dave Likeness

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #17 on: March 01, 2021, 11:14:59 AM »
In the New Testament there are texts which speak about Christians becoming MATURE
in their faith. They are to stand firm in the will of God and become obedient to Him. (Colossians 4:12)
The Apostle Paul speaks about his ministry to the church and his goal to present everyone mature
in Christ (Colossians 1:28)  We are to become more Christ-like as we mature in our relationship
with Him. 

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #18 on: March 01, 2021, 01:30:56 PM »
Cf.  Mark 9:23-24


Do we ever get beyond that prayer? What would life look like if we had no unbelief?


I believe that's a key verse for Mark's portrait of Jesus and his followers. (It's not found in the other gospels.) We are people who believe and who need help with our unbelief. Like Luther's simul justus et peccator, we are simultaneously believers and unbelievers. We "worship and doubt" (Matthew 28:17, the Greek can be translated with "and" rather than, "but some doubted." "Some" is not in the Greek text.)


I remember a seminary professor in, I believe, our first year theology course talking about being 100% sinners now; and in 10 years from now we will still be 100% sinners. 50 years we'll still be 100% sinners. So, how can we talk about making any progress? The idea, among some Christians, that sanctification is a movement from being less sinful to being more saintly isn't part of Lutheranism. Throughout our lives we remain simul justus et peccator. We can, and our Confessions, talk about our ability to make improvements in our civil righteousness. If that's what we mean by increasing our faith, I can agree with it.


Back to the Gospel of Mark: we might expect that Jesus' chosen disciples might become better and better at following Jesus throughout the narrative. They witness his miracles. They hear his words. They should come to better understand his mission on earth. They don't. They all run away. Some women continue to follow. They witness the crucifixion and the burial; but in the end, they also run away and say nothing to anyone.


Related to this: The “Healing of the Blind Man” in 8:22-26 is the only miracle story that is found exclusively in the Gospel of Mark. (Unfortunately, it is not an assigned text in the lectionary.) It  illustration the key theme in this gospel, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” In this story Mark suggests that there are three groups of people: (1) the uncured blind, (2) those who have received one touch and see partially, and (3) those who have received the second touch and can see clearly (τηλαυγῶς). It seems to me that most of the characters in Mark are either type 1 or type 2 people. Perhaps the only one who sees clearly is the Centurion who sees Jesus die and says, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (15:39). Throughout the gospels, the disciples see, but only partially, e.g., Peter's confession followed by rebuking Jesus.


Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that until Jesus returns, we all only see "in part." Even after being touched by Jesus in Word and Sacraments, we haven't reached the point of seeing clearly.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

George Rahn

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #19 on: March 01, 2021, 02:25:19 PM »
Cf.  Mark 9:23-24


Do we ever get beyond that prayer? What would life look like if we had no unbelief?


I believe that's a key verse for Mark's portrait of Jesus and his followers. (It's not found in the other gospels.) We are people who believe and who need help with our unbelief. Like Luther's simul justus et peccator, we are simultaneously believers and unbelievers. We "worship and doubt" (Matthew 28:17, the Greek can be translated with "and" rather than, "but some doubted." "Some" is not in the Greek text.)


I remember a seminary professor in, I believe, our first year theology course talking about being 100% sinners now; and in 10 years from now we will still be 100% sinners. 50 years we'll still be 100% sinners. So, how can we talk about making any progress? The idea, among some Christians, that sanctification is a movement from being less sinful to being more saintly isn't part of Lutheranism. Throughout our lives we remain simul justus et peccator. We can, and our Confessions, talk about our ability to make improvements in our civil righteousness. If that's what we mean by increasing our faith, I can agree with it.


Back to the Gospel of Mark: we might expect that Jesus' chosen disciples might become better and better at following Jesus throughout the narrative. They witness his miracles. They hear his words. They should come to better understand his mission on earth. They don't. They all run away. Some women continue to follow. They witness the crucifixion and the burial; but in the end, they also run away and say nothing to anyone.


Related to this: The “Healing of the Blind Man” in 8:22-26 is the only miracle story that is found exclusively in the Gospel of Mark. (Unfortunately, it is not an assigned text in the lectionary.) It  illustration the key theme in this gospel, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” In this story Mark suggests that there are three groups of people: (1) the uncured blind, (2) those who have received one touch and see partially, and (3) those who have received the second touch and can see clearly (τηλαυγῶς). It seems to me that most of the characters in Mark are either type 1 or type 2 people. Perhaps the only one who sees clearly is the Centurion who sees Jesus die and says, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (15:39). Throughout the gospels, the disciples see, but only partially, e.g., Peter's confession followed by rebuking Jesus.


Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that until Jesus returns, we all only see "in part." Even after being touched by Jesus in Word and Sacraments, we haven't reached the point of seeing clearly.

In faith, you get all of "it" (or in this case in Mark 9 the man gets the whole Jesus) at that point.  In unbelief you get nothing and you get no one at all (even if Jesus is there).  I think in the New Testament little faith is meant to mean that you have all of it but it is just little. ie. small.  Great is your faith means you get all faith all at once and in a great measure.  I sense that the man in Mark 9 was desperate to feel that faith in Jesus was enough for him.  He wanted the health of his son back and the whole son returned to him.  Jesus did that for him and the man trusted Jesus and his very word and deed  That man's faith was enough for him at that point because he "had" received for himself all of Jesus at that point.  He trusted Jesus and Jesus's act of healing the man's son.  The man "got" Jesus when he trusted what Jesus did for him and for his son.

I think it was M. Luther who said this:  "As much as I comprehend that is how much I have."  In the case of the man in Mark 9, he trusted the whole person and work of Christ for himself and he "got" Jesus that way, ie. the whole person and work of Christ.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2021, 02:32:12 PM by George Rahn »

George Rahn

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #20 on: March 01, 2021, 02:34:25 PM »
In light of the thread's topic here is a gem for reading and understanding:   https://crossings.org/faith-alone-justifies/?print=print

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #21 on: March 01, 2021, 03:09:02 PM »
In the New Testament there are texts which speak about Christians becoming MATURE
in their faith. They are to stand firm in the will of God and become obedient to Him. (Colossians 4:12)
The Apostle Paul speaks about his ministry to the church and his goal to present everyone mature
in Christ (Colossians 1:28)  We are to become more Christ-like as we mature in our relationship
with Him.


Yes, there are passages that talk about becoming mature. I spent some time studying Ephesians 4 during a month of continuing education. That chapter includes this paragraph (CEB emphasis added):

11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does their part.

I've also frequently used 1 Corinthians 3 to talk about immature believers (CEB emphasis added):

1 Brothers and sisters, I couldn’t talk to you like spiritual people but like unspiritual people, like babies in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink instead of solid food, because you weren’t up to it yet. 3 Now you are still not up to it because you are still unspiritual. When jealousy and fighting exist between you, aren’t you unspiritual and living by human standards?

What struck me in my studies of these texts is how much of our growth is about our relationships with other people. I'm not sure that we can do anything about our relationship with God (except admitting the numerous times we fail in that relationship). It's a relationships established, sustained, and continually re-established by God. We can do much about our relationships with other people. I've also begun to look at the fruit of the Spirit (as well as works of the flesh) in Galatians 5 to be about our relationship with other people.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

David Garner

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #22 on: March 01, 2021, 03:37:30 PM »
I think Pastor Stoffregen is hitting on something important here when he suggests we are always 100% sinners, but I would not go the direction of saying "therefore we cannot increase our faith."  Rather, it seems to me, increase of faith illuminates for us how very sinful we are.  The saints are often noted to say on their deathbeds "I need more time to repent."  St. John Climacus devoted an entire step in The Ladder of Divine Ascent to remembrance of death, and among the most beautiful words in The Ladder are these -- "the penitent stands guilty, but undisgraced."  He locates penitence in humility, viewing our sins not as afflictions, but as deserved chastisement.  That is one reason he advises things like rote repetition of prayer and asking for forgiveness even if you do not mean it.  He says we should apologize to your enemies "if only with empty words whose sincerity may shame [us].”

Awareness of one's own sin IS increase in faith.  And whereas the immature Christian may indeed see such awareness as empty words, eventually one hopes one might come to believe how great a sinner one is, and truly repent, not so that one might be a better person, or earn forgiveness, but so that one might rightly live in the grace God freely gives us.

If we believed we were sinners who stood condemned, we would not act as if we are not.  If we believed we were forgiven, we would treasure the gift all the more.  Growth in faith is simply increase in humility and awareness of the magnitude of our sins, and therefore of the magnitude of God's grace.  If you all will permit this non-Lutheran to recite one of my favorite quotes from Luther, "if you are a pastel sinner, then you have a pastel Savior."

He didn't mean we should sin all the more.  He was exhorting us to greater awareness of our sinfulness.
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #23 on: March 01, 2021, 04:03:35 PM »
I think Pastor Stoffregen is hitting on something important here when he suggests we are always 100% sinners, but I would not go the direction of saying "therefore we cannot increase our faith."  Rather, it seems to me, increase of faith illuminates for us how very sinful we are.  The saints are often noted to say on their deathbeds "I need more time to repent."  St. John Climacus devoted an entire step in The Ladder of Divine Ascent to remembrance of death, and among the most beautiful words in The Ladder are these -- "the penitent stands guilty, but undisgraced."  He locates penitence in humility, viewing our sins not as afflictions, but as deserved chastisement.  That is one reason he advises things like rote repetition of prayer and asking for forgiveness even if you do not mean it.  He says we should apologize to your enemies "if only with empty words whose sincerity may shame [us].”

Awareness of one's own sin IS increase in faith.  And whereas the immature Christian may indeed see such awareness as empty words, eventually one hopes one might come to believe how great a sinner one is, and truly repent, not so that one might be a better person, or earn forgiveness, but so that one might rightly live in the grace God freely gives us.

If we believed we were sinners who stood condemned, we would not act as if we are not.  If we believed we were forgiven, we would treasure the gift all the more.  Growth in faith is simply increase in humility and awareness of the magnitude of our sins, and therefore of the magnitude of God's grace.  If you all will permit this non-Lutheran to recite one of my favorite quotes from Luther, "if you are a pastel sinner, then you have a pastel Savior."

He didn't mean we should sin all the more.  He was exhorting us to greater awareness of our sinfulness.


I'm thinking that faith may have three components: our relationship with God (which is totally God's actions); our relationship with our selves (increased awareness of our sinfulness and also knowledge of God's actions for us); and our relationship with others (the difference in our lives that having faith makes and we can and should continually improve in our love for others).
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Dave Benke

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #24 on: March 02, 2021, 08:41:35 AM »
I'm trying to recall the place in the Werner Elert corpus where the two faith dynamics are explored/explained.  This is only a recollection - Saving faith is a gift from God.  It is not our "work."  At all.  Faith that grasps/clings to the gift is able to be strengthened, and the biblical means to that strengthening is often tribulation/temptation/trial/suffering, ie more dependence and clinging to the cross of Christ. 

So the answer to your question "what would it look like" is what's been happening in the world for the last year as experienced by Christians, who have been led to the cross and remained there through it all.

Dave Benke

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #25 on: March 02, 2021, 09:08:43 AM »
Good distinction, Dave. “Saving faith“ and the faith by which we hold to that. Two different things.
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David Garner

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #26 on: March 02, 2021, 10:23:03 AM »
I'm trying to recall the place in the Werner Elert corpus where the two faith dynamics are explored/explained.  This is only a recollection - Saving faith is a gift from God.  It is not our "work."  At all.  Faith that grasps/clings to the gift is able to be strengthened, and the biblical means to that strengthening is often tribulation/temptation/trial/suffering, ie more dependence and clinging to the cross of Christ. 

So the answer to your question "what would it look like" is what's been happening in the world for the last year as experienced by Christians, who have been led to the cross and remained there through it all.

Dave Benke

The other thing is, what does "faith" mean?  Most people take it to be something like "belief," which is why it is so often taken as something that is up to us.  But in a Biblical and Patristic sense, "faith" is more like "trust."  It isn't that we have so much of it, or that we do it so well.  It's simply that our role in it is no more than to look to God as a child looks to a parent.  I don't get any credit for being my parents' kid.  But I do trust them, because they have never failed me.  The trust is in the object, and the object does the work of strengthening the trust.
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George Rahn

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #27 on: March 02, 2021, 11:34:51 AM »
I think that both Garner and Stoffregen bring up the very important issue regarding the Holy Spirit's alien work of making our awareness of the depth of our sinfulness apparent to us.  This places the immediate need for the comfort of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to be preached/taught by the Church within the hearing of the sinner/sinners.  And thus the venture of faith upon the sinner/sinners becomes both critical and risky.  Faith becomes more about (at least for me) adherence to the Person and work of the Savior and how critical it is to find that Jesus rescues me/us from the indebtedness that surrounds and is within.  The negative part of faith presents us with the truth of who we are before God.  Redemption and the second person of the Trinity is therefore of critical and surpassing value.  This is where the Holy Spirit advises us of both the impossibility for human opinion to deliver (see below) and God's actual act of redemption in Christ's death and resurrection for the sinner/sinners.  In these cases there is no increase or decrease of faith but simply the cavern that opens between faith and unbelief.

I have been looking at Mark 10, specifically confining my view to verses 1-9.  Here Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees to define their conversation with him around human opinion which has no standing before God's word of law.  They simply ask Jesus whether it is permissible to divorce in the matter of marriage.  Here is the real perniciousness of the set-up by the Pharisees.  Yet Jesus is aware of this set-up as he immediately talks about what it is that Moses (not God) has done.  The certificate of divorce which is a creation out of human opinion is proposed as a subtle way of introducing divorce as perhaps permissible before the harshness of God's law.  God's law is established that 1)at the beginning God created them male and female and 2) that a man will leave his father and mother and be joined with his wife.  There is no room for separation or divorce in God's law.  And yet the Pharisees have presented human opinion before Jesus (God) without being able to see that this will not stand before God.  God is never mentioned in Jesus' beginning words with the Pharisees.  Jesus places Moses as the author of the legal issue of divorce leaving folks stuck within their hardness of heart.  And with the Pharisees there is no capacity for them to hear the Gospel; and, so they are confronted again with what God's law actually says about marriage.   Jesus (God) is the one who must restate that for them.  It is only in the hearing of Jesus' disciples in verses 10ff that the matter of adultery is taken up.  Which then becomes an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to begin the process of purgation in the hearts of the disciples (who are sinners). 

« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 11:40:48 AM by George Rahn »

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #28 on: March 02, 2021, 11:50:28 AM »
Good distinction, Dave. “Saving faith“ and the faith by which we hold to that. Two different things.


Back in seminary days, I realized that there needed to be a difference between "saving faith," and theology. The students who couldn't make that distinction had difficulties dealing with some aspects of studying theologies. Others could look at, for example, Bultmann's demythologizing, and see it as an academic exercise; a topic for discussion/debate, etc. We could talk about Borg's "take the Bible seriously, but not literally" approach. Such discussions in classrooms or hallways didn't change God's love and actions for us through Christ's life, death, and resurrection.


 
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Dave Benke

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Re: Can faith increase? What would it look like?
« Reply #29 on: March 02, 2021, 12:06:09 PM »
I'm trying to recall the place in the Werner Elert corpus where the two faith dynamics are explored/explained.  This is only a recollection - Saving faith is a gift from God.  It is not our "work."  At all.  Faith that grasps/clings to the gift is able to be strengthened, and the biblical means to that strengthening is often tribulation/temptation/trial/suffering, ie more dependence and clinging to the cross of Christ. 

So the answer to your question "what would it look like" is what's been happening in the world for the last year as experienced by Christians, who have been led to the cross and remained there through it all.

Dave Benke

The other thing is, what does "faith" mean?  Most people take it to be something like "belief," which is why it is so often taken as something that is up to us.  But in a Biblical and Patristic sense, "faith" is more like "trust."  It isn't that we have so much of it, or that we do it so well.  It's simply that our role in it is no more than to look to God as a child looks to a parent.  I don't get any credit for being my parents' kid.  But I do trust them, because they have never failed me.  The trust is in the object, and the object does the work of strengthening the trust.

A huge vote for faith as trust.   "What does this mean" is a Lutheran hallmark question, and the answer in the first commandment instance is "to fear, love and trust in God above all things."

Not to derail, but a major feature in admission to the altar for me through the decades has been the answer to the Luther-posed question "Who receives this Sacrament worthily?"  The answer is "...that person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words - 'given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.'" Faith in the promises is the entrance requirement.  To deny admission to a person who trusts in the promise of God in the Sacrament is not possible for me.

Dave Benke