“I think it is impossible to explain faith. It is like trying to explain air, which one cannot do by dividing it into its component parts and labeling them scientifically. It must be breathed to be understood.”
— Patrick White, Australian author and Nobel Prize recipient
Throughout the course of this book I have made the case that what we most desperately need is a multidimensional, vibrant view of faith that connects us to Jesus in a more holistic way. When Jesus said he had come to lead us into fullness of life, he was ultimately describing himself. Only when we see him fully can we ever hope to then see ourselves fully.
Throughout the book I have also separated the different dimensions of this faith – Faith in 3D – in such a way that we can examine each one in a concentrated manner. While there is value in interacting with each of them as individual dimensions, there is also a warning sign that must come with it. The biggest problem we all face is fragmentation. We tend to see only part of the picture, and without a vision of an integrated whole remain in an unsatisfied and often unhealthy place.
So how do we move towards an integrated lifestyle that sees faith as a living, dynamic, holistic, everyday reality?
One of my favorite metaphors for faith comes when we compare it to breathing, as Patrick White does with the quote above. He says you can separate the components of air and label them scientifically, but that still doesn’t guarantee that you know how to breathe. There comes a point where all of those separate components need to be integrated into a single expression of breathing. Without that, you will not be alive.
This is obviously true in the physical realm. Breathing requires two simple and essential functions. First you inhale, which your body needs to get oxygen from the air into your blood. Then you exhale, which your body needs to get carbon dioxide out of the blood and into the air. (The typical person repeats the physical process of breathing 20,000 times a day!)
If I asked you which one is more critical to life – inhaling or exhaling – I would be asking something ludicrous. How could you possibly separate one from the other? If a person only inhaled, she would suffocate and die. If a person only exhaled, his lungs would never get the necessary oxygen and he would die. If a person wants to stay physically alive, then he or she must both inhale and exhale.
The spiritual life works the same way. Which is more critical to the abundant life Jesus invites us to – inhaling faith or exhaling faith? That is just as ludicrous of a question as asking it in the natural realm. Faith is designed to include both as an integrated expression of life in Jesus. If we only inhale we could suffocate. If we only exhale we would never breathe in the life of God that is necessary to be changed.
I believe that this is one of the most significant challenges facing Christians in this day and age that are hungry to truly experience the abundant life. Many have been tricked into pitting the act of inhaling faith and exhaling faith against each other, as if one was more vital than the other. Look around at the Christian communities around you. The search for Christians who naturally integrate both the inhaling and exhaling of faith can be a discouraging process.
Some Christians are incredible role models for having intense energy to grow in their personal intimacy with God. They study their Bible, memorize Scripture, relentlessly pursue spiritual disciplines, and faithfully keep the image of walking with God at the center of their spiritual life. Yet as beautiful as their efforts to walk closely with God are, it is disheartening to see how rare it is to find these same Christians following Jesus into the needs of the world. They tend to have a significant emphasis on keeping their personal life holy, but the action side of faith often stops there. To use the metaphor of spiritual breathing, there is a lot of inhaling and not much exhaling.
The opposite is just as true. Some Christians are incredible role models for having intense energy to join God’s redemptive efforts in the world. These are the Christians who faithfully share their faith in both words and deed. They are dead serious about the words of Jesus that those who truly know him are the ones that clothed the naked, fed the hungry, and cared for the sick (see Matthew 25). They are evangelists, reconcilers, and advocates of justice. Yet as beautiful as their efforts in the world are, it is disheartening to see how rare it is to find Christian advocates who also possess a sense of internal connection to God that leads to a sustained life. Instead of having the strength that comes from being connected to God in a spiritually intimate way and sent by God into the world, they too often are fatigued, frustrated and burned out. Worse, a disturbing number of Christian activists find themselves falling into scandals involving money, sex, and power. I know many of them, and I hear the same thing each time. None of them thought they were capable of making the mistake they made. They got so caught up in advancing God’s cause in the world that they neglected the importance of God’s work happening in their internal world. There was a lot of exhaling but almost no inhaling.
It is precisely because of this imbalance that faith has become such a confusing concept for so many people. For many others Christian faith has become worse than confusing – it has lost credibility. When Christians claim that they walk closely with Jesus, but then show no concern for the hurting of the world we lose credibility. The reverse is true as well. When Christians do good work in society but then collapse under the weight of moral failure we lose credibility.
The truth of the matter is that we should lose credibility when we live with such an imbalanced view and experience of faith. Jesus always coalesced the inhaling and exhaling of faith into one integrated act of faith. We breathe life in, and we breathe life out. When either one is lacking it affects the other. When one is left deficient for a prolonged period of time, the entire faith experience suffers. We often draw a distinction between the outer works of faith and the inner work, but the Bible doesn’t draw that distinction. Breathing is closer to the analogy of the Bible.
That is why I have attempted to explore faith in this book as an integrated whole. Each dimension plays a uniquely critical role, but at the end of the day each dimension is meant to be experienced in symphony with the others. When a Christian feels like something is missing in their life, it is usually because one of these faith dimensions is out of alignment with the others.
As we prepare to transition out of the section of spiritual intimacy with God and into the section on mission, I would like to take the analogy of breathing and faith a little bit further. Jesus made allusion to this analogy himself, and it creates a powerful word picture for grasping the integrated nature of faith.
The story begins with Matthew, who was one of the initial twelve that Jesus selected to be part of his inner circle of disciple. Matthew’s conversion and discipleship modeled the type of faith integration that Jesus intends for each of us in order to be people that fully experience life in God.
When we are first introduced to him, he is still going by his old name Levi (Mark 2.14, Luke 5.27). When Levi leaves his old life as a tax collector and steps into his new life with Jesus, he is given the name Matthew, which means “gift of God.”
We are not explicitly told that Jesus is the one who bestowed the name onto him, but most commentators read between the lines and assume that is the case. A change of name was a frequent occurrence in Biblical accounts to represent a change of allegiance and a new identity in Christ. The stories of Abraham, Sarah, Peter and Paul all attest to this.
This begins the process of inhaling faith. By receiving the name “gift of God,” Matthew had a daily reminder of his new status. His name was an invitation to drink deeply from the waters of grace, mercy and love.
The exhaling of Matthew’s faith followed almost immediately. Matthew did not have an advanced degree or any formal seminary education, but that didn’t prevent him from having an immediate impact in the world. Matthew was connected to God by faith, and that was enough for him to receive a divine idea for how he could influence the lives of those who did not yet know Jesus.
Before his conversion Matthew had quite the reputation for being able to throw parties1. Once he began to follow Jesus he likely assumed those days were over. But led by the Spirit of God, he conceived of a way to leverage his party throwing ability and connect that to the new life he had found through Jesus. It would be a risk – the old party friends of Levi mixing with the future missionaries of planet earth would be quite a combustible mix – but Matthew was up for the challenge. He was learning fast about faith. Rarely do you know how it’s all going to turn out. You just do your best to listen to God and respond in obedience accordingly.
Matthew takes the leap of faith, and he organizes a party. It goes better than he could have ever imagined! All of his buddies come, and they actually liked Jesus! And Jesus was so smooth – his buddies were all drawn to his warmth, wit, and gravitas.
Just when the party is hitting its peak, a curve ball gets thrown into the equation. The fundamentalist Pharisees arrive, and they are absolutely dismayed at what they discover.
“When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ ‘On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’” (Matthew 9.11-12)
The atmosphere suddenly becomes charged.
In one corner you have Matthew, who is now feeling very tense. He thought he was being faithful to what had been revealed to him by God, but now he wasn’t so sure. Had he gotten Jesus in trouble? Had he made a mistake in bringing together these two disparate groups?
In another corner you have the Pharisees, who are upset because they believe Jesus is communicating contradictory messages. He teaches with the wisdom and aplomb of a seasoned Rabbi, yet defies the cleanliness laws by being in such an intimate space with tax collectors.
And then you have the tax collectors, who must have felt like they got caught in the middle of a bizarre conversation. They were all in the same room, so when the Pharisees called them “sinners” it was clearly heard. Though this undoubtedly irritated the tax collectors, it probably wasn’t a huge shock. They had felt the frozen stares of the Pharisees every time they passed each other on the street. But then Jesus takes it even further, and says, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” This must have been perplexing for them. Can’t you just imagine Mathew laughing as he later recorded this? I can almost picture him grinning as he remembered one of them leaning over to his buddy and saying, “Hey, I think that’s us he is talking about!”
Finally there is Jesus, who seizes this moment to deliver a powerful parable on the integrated nature of faith.
“‘On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Matthew 9.12-13)
When Jesus talks about the ‘healthy’ and the ‘sick,’ he is showing the Pharisees that he understands their concern. He is also making a comparison between breathing in the natural and breathing in the faith realm, and showing how this leads to an integrated understanding of faith.
In the eyes of the Pharisees religious people were spiritually healthy, and sinners were spiritually sick. That is why they were so concerned that Jesus and the disciples were hanging out with them. Though the Pharisees probably didn’t fully click with Jesus and the twelve, they gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed they were spiritually healthy. The way they figured it, if you are spiritually healthy you should do everything you can to avoid the spiritually sick. Otherwise you take the risk that the sick will exhale germs and you might accidently inhale them.
That actually makes sense – it’s how we treat sickness in the natural/physical realm, right? If someone is sick – let’s say they have the flu – we avoid him or her at all costs, right? Why is it that we are so afraid of being in the presence of someone carrying the flu? Because once an unsuspecting person inhales that virus, they suddenly become incredibly contagious. Every time they exhale, an army of invisible germs is unleashed. Everyone around them is now in danger of being infected.
It is no wonder than the root of influenza and influence is the same word. Something as small as a flu bug can turn someone into a person of incredible influence!
When Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” he not only affirms Matthew’s decision to bring together these two groups into an intimate space, but says something revolutionary about himself.
If the sinners were the ones that were spiritually sick, and if Jesus was the doctor, then what did that mean? Jesus was saying something to the Pharisees that was about to shatter their religious paradigm. Jesus was saying that he was not just some ordinary person or mere human being. In the natural realm, if a sick person comes in contact with a healthy person, the sickness will win. That is how the infection process works.
But when Jesus, the Son of God, comes in contact with a sick person, the infection process works in reverse. Instead of their sickness infecting him, his health infects them. Instead of their spiritually malignant condition being a threat to him, his presence breathes new life into places that were previously dead. When the sin of the sick comes in contact with the holiness of his health, they become well.
Jesus was teaching everyone in that room a powerful lesson about faith, and he connected it directly to his identity as the Son of God. True life and true healing can only be found in Jesus. When spiritual life comes in contact with spiritual death, life wins. When the sacred makes contact with the mundane, the sacred wins.
To use the breathing analogy, Jesus was showing everyone how true life was found. True life does not come from making ‘sacrifices’ on behalf of God. That is religion based off the flesh/natural. That is a futile attempt at trying to win Gods’ favor through your deeds and devotion. In the end working to please God leads only to death.
Instead, true life comes from breathing in the ‘mercy’ of God, which is administered by Jesus, the Great Physician. It comes from breathing in the grace and goodness and love of God. It comes from constantly inhaling the life that can only be found in Jesus.
Jesus is in effect telling the Pharisees that they were absolutely right when they looked at the tax collectors and saw a group of spiritually sick sinners. What he was hoping they would also see is that the tax collectors were not the only spiritually sick people in that room that needed the transforming grace of the Great Physician. Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they were in just as bad of a need of healing. They too were spiritually sick. Their sickness may have been dressed up on the outsider with religious deeds, but their insides were just as dead as the tax collectors. They could present an impressive resume, yet they were completely disconnected from life in God.
Despite their condition, Jesus was letting them know the good news of the Gospel applied to them just as much as it applied to the tax collectors. If they would simply repent of their sin – including the sin of trying to earn spiritual favor from God instead of receiving it – then God would pour down mercy upon them and breathe new life into the center of their being.
This is what Jesus wants for you and for me. When we repent of our sin and connect to God through Jesus Christ, we join in the song of the redeemed, “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3.23)
Through this teaching from Jesus we receive the necessary picture for how to bridge spiritual intimacy with God and the mission of following Jesus into the redeeming work of God in the world. They should not be viewed as two separate categories, but instead as two integrated functions of a unified, dynamic life of faith. It is the inhaling of the life of God and the exhaling of that life into the needs of the world. It is breathing in the grace and love that comes through Jesus, and then breathing that back out into the dying places that are all around us.
This is the pattern of faith found in the Bible. Moses breathed in the love of God through faith, and then was sent by faith to free the Israelites from bondage and captivity. Joshua breathed in the grace and mercy of God through faith, and then was sent by faith to lead the Hebrew people to the Promised Land. Matthew breathed in the essence of being a “gift of God” by faith, and then by faith moved boldly towards his friends that did not yet know Jesus.
At the heart of faith is the promise from Jesus that he has come to bring life, and bring life fully. Jesus wants you to be lit up from the inside out. He wants that for you more than you even want it for yourself.
As we run into the embrace of God and receive that life, it is so important that we not lose sight of the integrated nature of faith. There is nothing more precious than walking closely with God, and we celebrate the reality that we can experience that type of spiritual intimacy.
But to walk with God in the Garden means we will also follow God into the world. Spiritual intimacy is the center of Christianity, but it is not an end. Spiritual intimacy with God brings us close to the heart of the Father, and then we are sent back into the world on mission.
We must breathe in the life of the Gospel through faith, but we must also breathe it back out in those places that Jesus sends us. Every part of our being can come to life by inhaling faith, but we must also then exhale that life back into the dying places in our world.
(This was a chapter from the final draft of 10:10: Life to the Fullest, but was cut in order to reduce the overall word count. It’s one of my favorites though, so please help me pass it on!)