Is Optimism a Sign of Faith?

Most people would consider me an optimist.  We are all familiar with the idea that an optimist sees a glass half filled with water as half-full while a pessimist refers to the glass as half-empty.  Since I see a half-full glass of water as completely full, sufficient to do the job, does that make me a super optimist?

I have been asked more than once if I think my optimism is related to faith.  Let me describe what I see as the connection and you can decide.  Optimism based on unrealistic naiveté that completely ignores the dangers and downers of this world is not based on faith.  Optimism based on positive thinking just for positive thinking’s sake is not based on faith.  So is there an optimism based on faith?

Our world consists of both material and immaterial parts.  When our focus is strictly on the material world, pessimism is often a natural outcome.  Death, disease, disaster, disappointment are such a part of this world that it is easy to become discouraged.  It is easy to see things we would like to change for the better, but we don’t know how or if they can even be changed.  Our lives in the material world are defined by a negative action leads to negative consequence mentality; a world without grace and forgiveness.  In short, a world without hope.

But when we allow ourselves to dwell on all that is true in the immaterial world, our cause for optimism goes up.  This is the world we experience by faith.  By faith, I know that I have a new heart.  Now I did not receive a physical heart transplant when I believed the gospel message of Christ, but in the immaterial world a new heart is exactly what I received.  By faith, I know that in Christ I have a new nature.  Again, this was not a physical change, something I can observe in the material world with my five senses, but it is true nonetheless.  In the immaterial world, I can view the people in my life through a fundamentally optimistic lens, because I know that they are created in God’s image and, if believers, now members of God’s family; children of God Himself, possessors of His divine nature.  And negative actions on their part cannot change their new and essential identity.

Faith in action takes these beliefs and experiences of the immaterial world and brings them to bear on the material world we live in.  I take action based on what I believe.  I make choices for good based on my faith.  When we only live in the material world, it is easy to weigh the evidence around us and come to negative conclusions about the world we inhabit.  But when we live by faith, we bring the immaterial world – which is by far the more “real” world of eternity – into the picture and we influence our material world for good.

Do Christians still sin?  Yes.  Do believers disappoint each other?  Yes.  Do bad things happen to good people?  Yes.  Faith is believing that despite the sometimes evidence to the contrary in the material world, we do possess a power over sin, God’s family is filled with holy and beloved saints, and God is not the author of evil.

Yes, I believe there is a brand of optimism that is a sign of faith.  We will always have personality issues that affect our optimism/pessimism traits.  There will always be nature and nurture influences that affect how we see the world.  The goal is not to compare ourselves with others and find which camp we fall into.  The comparison is to ourselves.  When we examine ourselves, are we becoming more trusting of God’s goodness as we grow up in the faith?  Seeing ourselves as one or the other may depend on where we started, but as we move forward in experiencing more and more of God’s new covenant promises, I think what the world may see as optimism will be the picture of us walking by faith.

The Role of the Old Testament – The Righteous Live by Faith

Throughout history, under both the old and new covenants, the righteous live by faith.  The faith of the Old Testament saints is a quality that we, as New Testament believers, are to emulate.  The New Testament reminds us of their example and of the critical need to live by faith no matter what era we inhabit.

Despite their often public shortcomings, the faith of our Old Testament forebears is to be celebrated and followed.  Their faith was demonstrated by simply believing and acting upon the promises of God.  Hebrews chapter 11 highlights the various situations where the faith of the Old Testament saints was put to the test and they passed with flying colors.  And they believed even when the promises were yet to be fulfilled.

Hebrews 11 ends with, “And all these [heroes of the faith], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Heb 11:39).  Why?  Because it was still coming in the future; in the salvation of Jesus Christ.  The faith of God’s people in the Old Testament was forward-facing.  They were looking forward to the coming of the kingdom of God and the coming of His king, the Messiah.

Today, as citizens of that kingdom and servants of the King, we exercise a faith that is past, present, and future.  Facing backward, we see Jesus arrive on the scene 2000 years ago.  By faith, we believe that He indeed is the Promised One, the Anointed One, the Messiah.  By faith, we have embraced His message and His sacrifice.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8).  We have been saved through faith in Jesus.

In the present day, we walk by faith.  Just like the Old Testament believers, our present day faith is in the promises of God.  We believe that He has given us a new identity, even if we do not feel it.  We believe that we are indwelt by His Spirit, and we walk accordingly.  “Now those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:24-25).

And our current “walking by faith” connects us to the faith of the Old Testament saints.  Listen to Paul make the connection in Galatians chapter 3.  “Does God then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.  Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:5-7).

Finally, our faith is also facing forward into the future; believing in the promise of Christ’s return.  “Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:13-14).  The righteous indeed live by faith.

Walking by Faith – Overcoming the Enemy

You may recall this encounter between Jesus and one of Satan’s minions from Matthew chapter 17.

“When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before him and saying, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.  I brought him to Your disciples and they could not cure him.’  And Jesus answered and said, ‘You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring him here to Me.’  And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.  Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’  And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith’ ” (Mt 17:14-20).

“Because of the littleness of your faith.”  Our primary weapon against the attacks of Satan is our faith.  Now be aware that life is complicated.  And I don’t believe that we can just snap our faith fingers and Satan goes running.  But one thing I do understand is that I don’t want the littleness of my faith to be the reason Satan is winning a particular skirmish.  I don’t want a lack of faith to be the cause of my or your downfall.  Our faith matters.  Our faith makes a difference in the outcome.

Yes, Satan is a defeated foe, an assured loser in the war on God.  But until that final battle, Satan is working to disrupt God’s rule upon the earth.  And he is quite adept at throwing accusations, reasons for discouragement, and temptations our way.  We defeat Satan by our faith, that is, by believing God’s promises in the face of Satan’s accusations.

God’s promise in the unseen world:  Your old nature was crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6); sin is no longer your master (Rom 6:14).  Application to the seen world:  Don’t believe Satan’s lies.  Satan makes his living by lying, and he makes his living among believers by lying to them about God’s divine facts.  He highlights our sin and minimizes our victories.  He accuses us in the areas of our besetting sins and diminishes God’s promised power over sin in our lives.  His lies and accusations are overcome by faith; by believing the promises of God.  God says that your sin nature was nailed to a cross with Christ (Rom 6:6).  God says that sin is no longer your master (Rom 6:14).  God says you are His holy and beloved child (Col 3:12).

Paul comes back to the faith and Satan theme in his famous passage about the armor of God.  “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6:16).  The shield of faith – put into action by walking by faith – is our primary weapon in the fight with Satan.  May you wield it often.

Walking by Faith – Your New Heart

As I reflect on the promise of Good Friday and Easter, I am excited to write about another of God’s gifts that were secured by Christ’s death and resurrection.  The gift of a new heart.

Promise in the unseen world:  You have been given a new heart (Ez 26:36).  Your old deceptively wicked heart has been removed.  Application to the seen world:  You can trust your heart.  The heart, as used in the Bible, is the center of your will, thoughts, motives, understanding, and actions.  It represents the essence of who you are.  And suffice it to say, your old deceptively wicked heart was too far gone to clean up.  So God removed it and gave you a new heart to go along with your new birth.

Your new heart has a natural bent toward God.  You may not feel it all the time.  In fact, you may think there are some pretty close similarities to your old crummy heart.  But as we have seen all along, we believe by faith in the gifts of God that we cannot see with our eyes or feel with our skin.  And one of these gifts is a new heart.

So now you can trust your heart.  You don’t always have to be second guessing your choices and motives.  We are so often taught that basically if we think it up it must be wrong since our heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked”.  But you do not have that heart anymore.  It has been sent to the trash heap.  Your new heart is in tune with your new master, Jesus Christ.

Do we always feel like it is in tune?  Do we always act like it is in tune?  No, as with all things on this faith journey, it is a process; a practice in walking by faith.  But Christ is the Master Tuner.  And your conscience – the seat in your heart of your right and wrong choices – is being trained by the Master.  You can trust your conscience.  It no longer has an ounce of depravity in it.

God’s ways, God’s laws, God’s mind is standard equipment in the new heart (Heb 8:10).  It is not a option that only the super saints possess.  Thank the Lord today that your old heart and your old nature were crucified on the cross with Christ this very day so many years ago.  And show your thanks by living into all the new you now possess.  Happy death, burial and resurrection weekend!

Walking by Faith – The Spirit Inside

Let’s look at some more ideas of how we put God’s promise of a new identity into action.

Promise in the unseen world:  God’s Spirit now lives inside you (Rom 8:11).  Application to the seen world:  Because you believe the promise by faith, you act like His Spirit is living inside you.  You can’t see it, you probably can’t feel it, but you know God lives in you.  So you begin to live as if it were true.  What does “living as if it were true” look like?

For starters, you believe that your body is God’s dwelling place (I Cor. 6:19).  So you change some habits that you know God would not do dwelling inside you.  In the face of temptation, you literally ask yourself, “How would God act or react to this situation if He was living here inside me?  O wait, HE IS!”

You also begin to understand that God is not only dwelling inside you, but is speaking to you as well.  So you start to seek God’s voice.  You develop an ear to hear His guidance and direction.  Is the direction always clear?  No, there are often loud and competing voices.  But we believe by faith that He is speaking, so we keep listening…and following.

Another promise in the unseen world:  You have joined God’s family; God’s seed dwells in you (I Jn 3:9).  Application to the seen world:  You now have a family resemblance to God and His Son, Jesus.  It is not a physical resemblance, it is a moral resemblance; a likeness in righteousness and character (I Jn 2:29).

Think about how resemblance works in your physical family.  When our daughter Elizabeth and I were working in the same downtown building, I got on the elevator one day with her and her co-workers.  She immediately introduced me around, but before she got very far, her friends exclaimed, “Of course, we know that is your dad.  You can see the family resemblance.”

God intends it to work the same in the moral world.  As a new creation, He has created me to look like Christ in character and righteousness.  So I check myself.  How am I doing at living into the resemblance; at looking like Christ?  In the small town where I grew up, I was known as Adrian’s son.  And a desire to keep my father’s reputation intact was one element of my effort to stay on the straight and narrow.  Likewise, one of my motivations to resist temptation and to imitate Christ is to keep my Father’s reputation intact.  People will judge what God’s character is like by how His family members conduct themselves.

The important thing to remember is that this is not a family resemblance that we earn through some probationary period of good works.  The resemblance is already planted by God’s seed.  It is now up to us to live, in the seen and temporal world, as if it were true; which, of course, in the unseen and eternal world, IT IS!