We Need Faith Because We Need the Lord

Por Jared Buss

In the Word there’s a story about a man whose son is possessed by a demon. This man brings his son to the Lord’s disciples, seeking their help, but they are unable to cast the demon out (Mark 9:14-18). When the Lord arrives, the man begs Him for help (Mark 9:22). And the Lord answers, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (vMark 9:23).

This is just one of the dozens of Gospel stories in which the Lord urges people to believe in Him. The New Church teaches loudly and clearly that no one is saved by faith alone—but if all that you knew was the Gospel, you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that faith is the key to heaven. After all, the Lord says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

People sometimes struggle with the way that the Lord talks about faith in the Gospel. It makes no sense to say that people are saved by nothing but the ideas in their heads. One much-emphasized teaching of the New Christian Church is that being useful is what leads to heaven, and to happiness -- and in heaven we still will love to be useful to all the people around us. Because of teachings like these, the New Church sometimes leaves people with the impression that faith should be viewed as a relatively inconsequential thing.

But the Heavenly Doctrine doesn’t say that faith is inconsequential. What it actually says is that faith that isn’t joined to charity isn’t real faith. We read, “saving faith, which is an internal acknowledgment of truth, is possible only in people who are in a state of charity” (Doctrine of Faith §24). In other words, when the Lord urges us to believe in Him, He clearly doesn’t mean that we should accept the ideas He teaches and then do nothing with them. To believe in the Lord is to live as He teaches us to live. Faith that isn’t joined to that life isn’t real faith.

This idea is very different from the idea that faith doesn’t matter. When we emphasize the call to put charity into action, we can come away with the impression that what we do or don’t do is all that matters. It isn’t so. The Lord tells us over and over that if we want the happiness of heaven, we need to believe in Him.

Why it matters so much that we believe in Him could be explained in a lot of different ways. But here’s one explanation: we really need the Lord. In our native state of mind, we have no idea just how badly we need Him. Without Him we make a hash of things; without Him we have no idea what’s really good and what merely seems to be good. He says, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He says that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven is virtually impossible—and then He says, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:23-26). A rich man symbolizes one who takes credit for all of the good things that the Lord has given him. We cannot save ourselves with our own power, or our own goodness, or our own spiritual riches—it’s like trying to put a camel through the eye of a needle (Matt. 19:24). But with God all things are possible. To have faith in the Lord is to recognize these things, and to keep them before our eyes. As it says in the passage quoted above, faith is “an internal acknowledgment of truth” (Doctrine of Faith §24). And the truth is that we need the Lord.

The starkest proof of our need for Him is the teaching that without Him we have nothing but evil. This idea strikes many people as both harsh and gloomy—but if it’s true, then it’s worth our attention, even if it’s hard to hear. And the thing is, the passages from the Heavenly Doctrine that talk about what we have without Him never stand alone: they’re always combined with teachings about what we can have with the Lord. Here’s one example:

All human beings, no matter how many there may be, are withheld from evils by the Lord, and … this is done by a mightier force than a person can possibly believe. For, on account of both the heredity with which he is born and of what he has acquired through his own actions, everybody is perpetually bent on evil, so much so that if he were not withheld by the Lord he would at any moment rush headlong into the lowest hell. However the Lord’s mercy is so great that he is raised up every moment, even every fraction of a moment, to withhold him from rushing into that place. (Arcana Coelestia §2406.2).

The middle of this passage is the tough part: who loves the idea that everybody is bent on evil? But the passage begins and ends with a beautiful message of hope. The Lord withholds all of us from evil, and He does this with a power that is mightier than we can believe! And He does it out of pure mercy—mercy that never ceases. With Him we can have something so much better than our native selfishness; with Him we can have the joy of heaven. And He is already at work, striving to make that possibility a reality. It’s within reach—the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7). But we can’t get there on our own. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).