Can you live on an outsourced faith?

“The righteous will live by his faith” (Hab 2:4)

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jer 2:13)

Laying the groundwork for his kingdom, Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with this: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3).

He delivered this striking, audacious message to an already religious people, perhaps not the same nation as in the times of David and Solomon, but with a Temple and local synagogues, a system of scribes and teachers of the law, and a proud heritage that traced its descent from the patriarchs, beginning with Abraham.

To paraphrase, he was saying that those who feel they aren’t qualified are in fact qualified to receive and participate in this new kingdom. But first a spiritual GPS must “locate” them.

Redemptive history begins with light. As the psalmist wrote: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps 119:130).

When you enter a darkened room, its furnishings are indistinct shapes, hard to identify and distinguish in the shadows. When you turn on a light, the room’s contents don’t change. The difference is now you can see what was always there.

In the wake of Adam’s disobedience, God’s light came in the form of two incisive questions. Adam had “hidden” himself (as if God couldn’t see him) and “made coverings” for himself and Eve. Though Adam may have reasoned that this would solve his problems, already you can see the “futile” thinking and “darkened hearts” that Paul refers to in Rom 1:21.

The direct question “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) was for their benefit, to reveal that something fundamental had changed in their relationship. Adam hadn’t stopped believing in God, just thought—imagined, really—his newfound consciousness of guilt meant he literally had to cover himself.

When Adam explained he had done this “because I was naked,” God’s response is also revealing. It wasn’t just the fact of his nakedness that mattered, but the source of the revelation (“Who told you that you were naked?”).

Having exposed them as “poor in spirit” and in need of acceptable “covering,” redemption could begin. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife Eve and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). In the choice of skin for the covering, it foreshadows the redemptive statement in Hebrews that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (9:22).

Later, when God brings his people to the Promised Land, he reminds them through Moses of both how he led them and why:

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:2-3).

God did this because they were to be a nation like no other. Other nations had kings; Israel’s king was the Lord God. Their forms of worship and the way they lived were different from the surrounding nations. God was to be their all in all, their only life source, which would happen as they lived “on every word” that comes from him.

Jesus was no less rigorous when recruiting for the kingdom. To the rich young man who came asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk. 10:17-21), Jesus first pointed to the commandments (“Do not murder, do not commit adultery,” etc.), to which the man replied, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” There was no question he was a good man, respecting the words of God.

But not every word.

One thing you lack,” Jesus said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

In that moment, of course, Jesus was saying to the man, “Where are you?” He was also humbling and testing him, a righteous and successful man, to see what was in his heart, whether he would keep the command. “One thing” meant everything.

Just as with Adam, this didn’t signify a closed door. It was a moment of reckoning, a turning point that could have gone either way.

But “at this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

That the rich man initially felt some sort of kinship with Jesus is likely, given that he knelt before him, called him “good teacher” and confidently asserted he had kept the commandments. It must have crushed him to learn that he was in fact an outsider because of this “one thing.”

There is no bar to the wealthy entering the kingdom. Jesus said it was “hard” for them to enter, but not impossible (Mk 10:23-27). Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:11-15), a merchant who managed her own household, was probably well-off. Zacchaeus “was a chief tax collector and was wealthy” yet promised to give half his possessions to the poor and repay those he had cheated (Lk 19:1-10).

The difference is what you tap as your source. “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk 12:15). A good, even righteous and successful life can be a “broken cistern” that ultimately runs dry.

Photo from Pexels

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