Read an Excerpt
The Seven Checkpoints for Students
Jared is a hard person to figure out. Many of his peers call him two-faced, a hypocrite. Their tainted view of Jared is justified. Even Jared would admit that he is a different person than he was four months ago. Back then, he was active in his church and a leader in his youth group as well as in a Christ-based club at his high school. He was considered a young man of strong faith.
But something happened. Those who don't really know Jared, who don't know about his relationship with Christ, would say that he is just being a normal, fun-loving teenager. Those closest to Jared, however, see that he is spiraling away from God, and they blame it on her.
Jared's about-face seemed to have started when she entered his life. What began as a simple attraction now consumes his attention almost twenty-four hours a day. The high standards Jared once held in regard to dating and girls have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Lauren is having a difficult time believing this whole God thing. It's not because she doesn't want to. In fact Lauren hopes more than anything else that God is real and that He cares. But there are too many unanswered questions, too many tragic circumstances that don't make sense.
It's not that Lauren has never given God a try. She was brought up in church. Her parents were very active in their congregation, and Lauren had no choice but to be in church too. At first she resisted, but as time went on she started to understand how much God loved her. She began to enjoy the worship, the teaching, and the fun she had with her friends there. She received Christ as her personal Lord and Savior, and her faith began to grow.
But the phone call that dreadful night in January literally knocked her to her knees. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't move. In a shower of despair, shock slowly overtook her body and mind. My mom is dead? She just left the house! Is this a bad dream?
Lauren never woke from that nightmare. Her mother had been killed in a car accident barely two miles from her home and God was to blame. If her mom hadn't been so involved at church, she never would have left for the Bible study that night. Surely if God really loved Lauren, her mom would still be alive.
In the process of spiritual renewal and growth, faith is a critical, foundational element. For that reason it is imperative that you understand what faith is and what it isn't. Unfortunately, confusion over the definition of faith is rampant in the Christian community. Often faith is spoken of as if it were some kind of force or power something you can turn on when you need it if only you could find the right switch. But that's a faulty definition of faith.
Confusion in this one area is the primary reason so many students abandon Christianity. It is the reason students have such difficulty trusting God with every area of their lives. It is also the reason so many students are unsure of their salvation. Conference after conference, meeting after meeting, camp after camp, they raise their hands again to indicate that they are receiving Christ as their Savior. They're not sure it "took" the last time.
To be a Christian, you must have faith. But what exactly is faith? Let's talk about it.
Checkpoint #1: Authentic Faith
Read Job 1:6-22
What was Satan implying in verses 9-11 about Job's faith?
List everything Job lost that one day. How would you feel if this happened to you? Explain your feelings.
Why do you think Job was able to respond the way he did in verses 20-22?
Think about It
Define faith in your own words. Be as detailed as possible.
Was Job's faith based in the present or in something else? What do you think Job's faith was rooted in?
How could a good God allow all these bad things to happen to Job? Why didn't God stop the bad circumstances from happening?
The Old Testament character Job was faced with a series of terrible circumstances that we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy! Fortunately, Job's faith didn't depend on his circumstances. He had faith despite his circumstances.
Circumstantial faith is fragile. It is totally dependent upon our ability (or inability) to interpret events. Kim prays and prays and prays for God to help her pass a test but she fails. So Kim interprets that failure to mean that God doesn't answer prayer or that maybe He is mad at her. She concludes that God can't be trusted. Her faith is shattered by her interpretation of the circumstances around her.
We are all prone to misinterpret events. Ask a four-year-old being carried by his father into the doctor's office if Daddy loves him. When the doctor brandishes a needle for a tetanus shot, the little boy might have his doubts! But years later, ask that same child about the doctor's visit. He will have a completely different perspective. He will know that his father showed his love by caring enough to protect his son's health.
Just as a child cannot correctly judge his parent's character based on one scary trip to the doctor, so we dare not draw conclusions about God's goodness based upon the immediate circumstances of life. God's faithfulness and loving character do not hinge on the unfolding of circumstances.
Circumstantial faith is fragile because our frame of reference is too small. It is hard for us to look at the significance of events in the context of a lifetime, much less weigh those events on the scale of eternity.
Consider Joseph, the boy who spent fifteen years as a slave in Egypt after being sold into slavery by his own brothers. His "tragedy" was a part of a beautiful tapestry that God was weaving behind the scenes to save an entire region from famine. (You can find Joseph's story in Genesis 37-45.) Then there was Moses, the great leader who spent forty years in the wilderness before God sent him back to Egypt freeing a nation from slavery and unfolding a wonderful purpose in Moses' seemingly purposeless existence. (Read Moses' story in Exodus 2-14.)
For many teenagers, the ever-changing landscape of circumstances defines God. How about you? If God doesn't answer your prayers by next week, do you wonder if He even exists? If you don't see God at work in your immediate circumstances, do you lose your confidence in Him? Do you get stressed out over things like taking a test, getting a date, winning a game, or being left out? (Neutrogena and Oxy10 are making a killing off of your stress!)
Can your faith be summarized by this statement: "What's happening now and what I'm feeling now determine what I believe for now"? If so, you may have a faulty understanding of faith. Are you ready to replace that faulty understanding with an authentic faith? In the spaces below, journal what God is saying to you in regard to your faith.
Read Hebrews 4:14-16
When the writer urges us to "hold firmly to the faith," what does that suggest to you?
Why does the fact that Christ is our high priest hold so much significance?
This passage seems to imply that the Hebrew Christians had a faulty understanding of the nature of their high priest, Jesus. What were they missing, and why?
Think about It
Could you describe the foundation of your faith? Explain.
Do you tend to worry and doubt God when bad things happen? Why?
Can you think of a time when you nearly abandoned your faith? What happened and why?
In the book of Hebrews the author addresses a group of Jewish Christians who were being pressured by the Jewish community and tough circumstances in general to abandon their faith. Being a Christian seemed to have few practical benefits for these believers. On the contrary, their faith was costing them both socially and financially. Not only were they ostracized in their community, they were banned from the synagogue, which was the hub of their society.
To make matters worse, the Hebrew Christians had been led to believe that Jesus was coming back soon and thus far He was a big no-show! Now they were beginning to wonder whether or not this Christianity thing was for real.
The author of Hebrews writes this letter to encourage his readers not to abandon their faith. The basis of his argument is the identity of Christ. In the first three chapters, he presents a mountain of evidence pointing toward the conclusion that Christ is God. We believe, he declares, because we know that Jesus walked on this earth, claimed to be God, gave evidence supporting His claim, died for our sin, rose from the dead, and went back to heaven in plain view of hundreds of witnesses. He concludes by stating, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess" (Hebrews 4:14).
If Christ really is who He says He is, then you don't need to worry when bad things happen to you. You have a high priest who understands. If Jesus really died for your sins, then you have no reason to doubt His love. You have a friend who has laid down His life for you. And if He really meant it when He promised to come back for you, then you don't have to be afraid of what happens next in your life. You have a heavenly Father who has your best interest in mind!
If your faith rests on anything other than the person of Jesus Christ who He is and what He has done for you you are building your life on a fragile foundation. Eventually the events of life will sway you to adapt what you believe. Circumstances will cause you to doubt God. But God never intended for your faith to rest upon what's going on around you.
Your faith can't rest on your ability to figure out the mysteries of life. It can't rest on your ability to understand how everything fits together. It can't rest on how consistently things go your way or how closely God follows the plans you have made for your life. Your faith can't even rest on whether or not God answers your prayers.
The foundation of your faith must be the person of Jesus Christ. Is that true of you? Record your thoughts in the spaces below.
Read Hebrews 11:1
What does "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" mean to you?
How can you be sure of something you hope for and certain of something you don't see?
Is there a difference between faith and hope? Between faith and confidence?
Think about It
If it were proven to you today that God does not exist, how would your life change? What would you do differently?
If Jesus in the flesh were to walk in the room you're in right now, what would you do? How would your life change?
If faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you don't see, you should be doing the things you say you would do if Jesus were right there beside you. Are you living by faith?
Faith is actually a very simple concept. So why are we confused? The answer lies in our unwillingness to accept faith for what it really is rather than what we want it to be. We want faith to be a power that moves God in a direction we have prescribed. We want faith to be the code that unlocks the door to God's unlimited resources resources we can use at our discretion. Basically, we want faith to be a way for us to get what we want from God.
But biblical faith is not a force or a power. It is not something we tap into. It is not a tool we use to get something from God. Obi Wan Kenobi ("May the force be with you") is not our leader! That sort of thinking comes dangerously close to New Age philosophy and has no basis in the Bible.
Nor is biblical faith merely confidence. When a basketball team bursts out of the locker room pumped up for a game, those players believe they are going to win. If you were to ask the fans in the bleachers if they have faith in their team, they would shout, "Yes!" But that's not biblical faith. That's confidence. The two are not the same.
Biblical faith is also not wishful thinking. When we wish for something, we want it, but we have no guarantee that we will get it. If you wrote me after completing this journal and invited me to your house for dinner, would you have faith that I was coming? Would you announce my imminent arrival to your parents? No. You would want me to come, but you wouldn't have faith that I would come. What would it take for you to have faith that I was coming? You would need a letter or phone call confirming the fact that I had accepted your invitation. You would need a promise from me that I would be there. The promise would allow you to move from wishful thinking to faith.
The bridge from wishful thinking to faith is the revelation of God the wonderful promises He gives to us in His Word, the Bible. God has promised to love you and never forsake you. You don't need to merely wish that He would have your best interest in mind; you can be absolutely confident that He does!
A good working definition of faith, then, is this: Faith is confidence that God is who He says He is and that He will do all He has promised to do. It is not confidence in yourself or your pastor or your friends or your circumstances; all these will let you down. It is confidence in the absolute promises and unchanging character of God.
In the rest of chapter 11, the writer of Hebrews gives us dozens of illustrations of people who showed true biblical faith. In every case, that faith was grounded in a promise or a revelation from God. Noah spent 140 years building an ark because God promised that it was going to rain. Abraham left his home and set out without a destination in mind because God promised to lead him to a new home. Gideon charged into an enemy camp totally outnumbered because God promised victory. Moses went back to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh because God promised to deliver Israel through him. Joshua marched around Jericho until the walls fell down because God promised success.
Do you have faith? Does your life reflect your confidence that God is who He says He is and that He will do all He has promised to do? God is trustworthy. Believe it! In the spaces below, let God know the places in your life where you need a promise to have faith. Search Scripture and see if they are there.
Read Matthew 7:7-11
Can you explain in your own words what Jesus was trying to say in this passage?
Do you think we can ask God for anything and receive it? Why or why not?
Does everyone who asks of God receive from God?
Think about It
Find one place in Scripture where God says that He will do all that is asked of Him. Write it down.
Have you ever been guilty of approaching God as if He were a cosmic Santa Claus?
Does your faith in God rest on God's doing what you ask of Him or God's being able to do what you ask of Him? What's the difference?
Let's admit it: We all want to be in the driver's seat. There is something inside each of us that wants a "faith" that puts us in control. I wrestled with this issue as a high school student. I was always trying to find a way, a gimmick, a magic prayer that would force God to do my bidding. But biblical faith puts God firmly in control of our lives. Authentic faith leaves Him with the option to say no.
You must understand this distinction. Only when you come to terms with the true nature of faith will you will be able to surrender your will to God's. The outcome of authentic faith is a life that is in alignment with the will of the Father. As long as you are trying to get something from God, you will have a difficult time surrendering your life to God.
One of the best things you can do to develop authentic faith is to consistently view God as a perfect father. As my friend Louie Giglio is fond of saying, "God is not a reflection of our earthly fathers; He is the perfection of our earthly fathers." As a perfect Father, God would not dare give His children everything they ask for. He knows that many of things you think you want so badly are not good for you in fact, they are downright dangerous to your spiritual life! But because He is a perfect Father, you can always trust Him, even when He seems to act out of character or you don't understand what He's doing. You can be sure that He has your best interest at heart.
Recognizing God as Father is consistent with biblical faith. In fact, Jesus Himself instructed us to address God as "Father." He could have chosen any of a dozen Old Testament analogies for us to use. But He chose for us to call Him "Father." This, then, is how we must view Him!
Because God is our Father, we can ask Him for anything we desire. Jesus assured us in Matthew 7:11 that God loves to give good gifts to His children who ask. We see this love illustrated repeatedly in the Gospels. Often when Jesus healed the blind and the lame, He admonished them not to tell anyone what had happened to them. Apparently Jesus healed these people simply because He, like His Father, enjoyed giving good things to those He loved. He gave because He enjoyed giving.
Today ask God for anything you desire. And as you ask, remember that He is a perfect Father. He wouldn't dare give His children everything they ask for. But He can be trusted to give you good things simply because He loves you! Spend some time asking God for your desires.
Read Proverbs 3:5-6
What does the writer of Proverbs mean by "leaning on your own understanding"?
What is the object of faith in this verse? Does the object make it easier or harder for a person to have faith?
What is the promise in this scripture?
Think about It
Is it hard for you to trust God in every area of your life? Why or why not?
What is the process you go through to make decisions?
The writer of Proverbs says that you should acknowledge God in "all your ways." What does "all your ways" mean in your life?
To have authentic faith, we must learn to distinguish between God's promises and our own expectations. There are many things God has not promised that we wish He had. God has not promised to keep bad things from happening to us, for example. God has not promised to heal every illness. He has not promised to reverse the consequences of sin. Yet there are occasions when God intervenes and does all of these things. Why? Because He is a good God who loves to give good gifts to His children.
But He has not promised to do all these things. He is under no obligation. And the fact that parents divorce and grandparents die and friends move away is no reflection on the goodness or presence of our heavenly Father.
But there is a promise attached to authentic faith. You read it in your Scripture reading today: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . . and he will make your paths straight." This promise is one you need cling to with everything you are. Trust in the Lord with all your heart; that is, trust God with every area of your life. He is a perfect Father who can be trusted! And in response to your trust and faith, He promises guidance. Literally, God will make your path your direction in life clear and obvious.
God is who He says He is: a perfect Father. And as a perfect Father, He will do all He has promised to do and more. Are there any areas in your life where you need to trust God? Write them down as an act of submission to Him.
Read Ephesians 2:8-9
According to this verse, what is the element that saves a person?
Grace can be defined as God's undeserved favor. How do we get grace from God?
Why do you think Paul emphasizes the connection (or disconnection) between good works and God's grace?
Think about It
Do you have a tendency to serve God in order to earn His favor or approval?
Why do you think Paul says we are saved through faith and not by faith?
Is it difficult for you to receive God's grace?
Faith must always have an object typically a person or a product. If I told you that I was going to visit you at dinnertime, the object of your faith would be me. If a bar of soap were advertised as being especially good for stopping breakouts, the object of your faith would be the bar of soap. The object of faith is who you believe or the product you believe in.
Faith must always have content as well. When you believe in a product, you believe something about the product. You believe it will do what it claims it will do for example, that the soap will help keep your face clear. Similarly, if you believe in a person, you are confident that the person is trustworthy and will do what he says he will do. You believe, for example, that I will show up at your house for dinner if I say I will. The content of faith is what a person or product promises to do for you. The content of faith is what you believe.
Saving faith has a very specific object and a very specific content. The object of saving faith is Jesus not just God. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
But what specifically do we need to believe about Jesus? The content of saving faith is like a pair of concrete stakes that must be driven deep into our hearts: (1) Jesus is the son of God, and (2) His death on the cross paid the penalty for all of our sin apart from anything we do or intend to do to try to "earn" our salvation.
You can believe a multitude of other things about Christ. You can believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, did miracles, died on a cross, and never sinned. The Bible says that each of these is true. But they are not the critical elements of saving faith. The problem with saving faith is not that it is so complex, but that it is so simple!
The way a person comes to salvation is through faith. If you were to ask some friends next Sunday morning why they are at church, they would not answer, "Because of my car!" Their car would be the vehicle that got them to church, but it is not the reason they came. They came to please God and worship with fellow believers. Similarly, faith is the vehicle that carries you to salvation, but Jesus is the reason you are saved. You are saved through faith but not because of faith.
Salvation is a gift from God. It is not a reward gift. God does not offer it because you deserve it. God offers every person salvation because that is His desire. The way you receive that free gift of salvation is through trusting in God's offer. That is saving faith. It is confidence that God is who He says He is and that He will do all He has promised to do.
Today rest in the fact that God saved you by grace through faith just because He wanted to. Spend some time recording your thankfulness for God's grace and your salvation!
Reread Hebrews 4:14-16
What are the two things the writer says in verse 16 that you can receive from God?
Does the fact that Jesus can sympathize with your weaknesses have any bearing on what you receive?
Why can you draw near to God with confidence?
Think about It
What does "mercy" mean to you?
In this context, what do you think "grace" means?
Is there one area in your life where you need strength to endure?
If faith is confidence that God is who He says He is and that He will do all He has promised to do, the question is, What can we expect from God? or, What exactly has He promised us?
The writer of Hebrews says that we can hold firmly to our faith because we have a high priest, Jesus, who has on His own merit "passed through the heavens." He is a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses and temptations. Therefore, the writer says, we can draw near to God "with confidence."
"Confidence in what?" you ask. "You've already told me that he may not give me what I want. He might say no. How can I ask for anything with confidence?"
But you can approach God's throne with confidence confidence that He will always give you the two things that are most critical in your time of need: mercy and grace.
Mercy comes in many forms. Sometimes it is simply the comfort you feel from knowing that, in some mysterious way, you have God's undivided attention when you pour your heart out to Him. At times mercy comes in the form of physical or emotional relief. Mercy is the assurance that God will never allow the pressures or heartbreaks of life to be more than you can bear.
You have a Savior who understands. He has felt what you feel. Therefore, He knows exactly what you need. The writer of Hebrews says that you can come to Him with confidence. You can boldly come to God with total transparency and openness. He is never going to say, "I can't believe you did that." He will never respond quizzically, "I can't believe you feel that way." He will never ask emphatically, "What is your problem?" He is a mercy-giving God because He knows from experience what it is like to need mercy.
But God's promises don't end with mercy. You can expect to receive grace as well. In this context grace is the strength to endure, the ability to carry on.
Mom may never understand. Dad may never come back. Your teacher may never lighten up. Popularity may always be elusive. The scholarship may never come through. But God has promised to give you grace the strength to endure.
God has not promised to deliver you from your circumstances. He has promised to deliver you through them. You have the freedom to ask God to change your circumstances. And you can count on Him for the grace to endure in the meantime.
Ask God in writing to deliver you through the circumstances you are in right now.