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Is it Faith or just Religious Fervor?

Abraham held the knife high in the air. The beloved son God had promised him was on the altar. But Abraham was sure that God could raise even the dead. A noise in the bushes caught his attention and made him pause. It was a ram, his horns entangled in the thicket. Abraham recognized God’s provision, and he accepted it as the answer to the test.

But what if he hadn’t? What if his faith would have been a prideful, religious zeal? What if he would have continued in his sacrifice of his only son convinced that God would raise him up because he was that important or convinced that he had to give him up to prove he loved God?

Have you heard the story of the man who got caught in a flood? The waters kept rising until he was stuck on the roof of his house. He considered himself a man of faith and prayed desperately for God to rescue him. Along came a speedboat and the occupants encouraged him to jump in. “No thanks. I’m waiting on the Lord. I trust Him to rescue me,” the man said. A helicopter flew near and let down a rope, but he “shooed” it away. He’d stand on the promises of God. Finally, a large piece of driftwood floated along right next to his house. He barely even noticed as his eyes were raised toward Heaven pleading for God to come.

The man drowned and stood before the Lord where he asked, “God, why didn’t You rescue me like You promised in Your Word?” The Lord replied, “I tried. I sent a boat, a helicopter, and even a wooden float. Why didn’t you take My provision?”

The “faith movement” has made big bucks over the years with its claims that our biggest problem is that we don’t have enough faith. We buy into this because it calls to our human ego. The more faith we accumulate, the better we are than everyone else around us. The more we believe, the more we receive. The more we sacrifice, the more faith we get. We’ve come to rely on our own faulty belief systems because they keep God in a controllable box.

Our problem isn’t that we don’t have enough faith in God. It’s that we don’t have enough authentic relationship with God.

Abraham had a relational faith. His belief was only possible because he’d developed a relationship with God. He’d received compassion, forgiveness, kindness, and promises from the Lord. He’d been around to see how God operated and who He was. And because of this experiential relationship, he knew when he took his son up that mountain that he could trust God. He wasn’t attached to any particular outcome, he only was certain that God would provide.

Abraham was also very aware during this test of obedience. He, himself, had assured Isaac that God would provide the ram. But Hebrews 11 says that Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead. So Abraham’s human guess might have been that God would really let him go through with it and then resurrect Isaac later. Yet, when Abraham saw that ram, he was humble enough to accept it as the substitute for his son. He didn’t continue with the more difficult action of killing his son. He accepted God’s mercy in lieu of the sacrifice of his child.

I think we often get caught up in a line of thinking as Christians that can be dreadfully harmful to us and those around us. This line of thinking is graceless and merciless. It convinces us that if it’s not the hardest road, it’s the wrong one. It implies that God’s way is hard drudgery or nothing at all. It turns us into mean, spiteful, judgmental, superior people who love nothing more than to tick off all of the hard, sacrificial things we’ve done for Christ.

The antidote to this kind of religious fervor that masquerades as faith is to learn to open our eyes to God’s provision and to accept it gladly as our rescue. God isn’t always asking us to take a knife to our dreams. Sometimes He just wants to grow in our relationship with Him. Abraham’s almost sacrifice taught him (and us) much about God’s goodness and His character. He isn’t out to take everything away from us. Rather, He wants to give us the one thing we desperately need. HIM.

Has God provided a ram lately that you’ve overlooked? Don’t turn His provision away in foolish religious pride.

Father, open our eyes to Your provision in every circumstance. Help us to learn to set aside our religious pride and instead listen to the Holy Spirit and obey His voice. We want the kind of relationship with You that increase our authentic faith in You. Amen.

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