Recently, while studying research on dementia diseases, including Alzheimer's, I learned that scientists have discovered abnormal clusters on the brains of dementia victims. These microscopic plaques and tangles seen in dying nerve cells are comprised of twisted strands of protein fragments. We're familiar with the declining cognitive and bodily functions, but the degenerative process itself can be seen only through microscopic examination, on autopsy of the brain.
Dead faith is similar, and this verse came to my mind:
James 2:26 – As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (NIV)
We may see dead faith as unbecoming hypocrisy in others, but only God sees the spiritual plaques and tangles in the heart, including our own. Only God can perform an accurate autopsy on dead faith — and bestow renewed faith through sanctification. This renewing repair work continues throughout our faith journey. Certainly for me, God keeps on revealing residuals of dead faith, like those mentioned in James: double mindedness, selfish motives, self-deceit, pride, resentment, envy, coveting, and worldly affections. All of those plaques of sin reside within. God often uses others as mirrors to help me see that. Through those mirrors I come to see that their flaws are actually my own. I'm no different. Constant vigilance is required, because we can easily deceive ourselves.
Nevertheless, it's natural to feel demeaned by another's wrongdoing, whether experienced through conflicts, favouritism, narrow-mindedness, or controlling tendencies. It's hard to feel forgiving and merciful, especially if we've expected more from others. However, we can accept the inevitable decline of this grievously fatal condition in dementia victims. Just as it's easier to feel merciful towards them because we know that degeneration is happening in the brain, so we should have that same attitude towards the symptoms of dead faith. After all, it's also a fatal condition. It requires God's Spirit to cure spiritual de-generation through re-generation, in both ourselves and others.
I suspect that much of our distress over troublesome people is self-inflicted. We cannot accept the deadness of dead faith. We want what we can't have. "What causes fights and quarrels among you?", asks James. "Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? … You do not have because you do not ask God. … you ask with wrong motives." (James 4:1-3 NIV) We want something less than what God wants for us. We want life to work without distress from troublesome people. Yet, God may intend to use such distress to mature our faith and release us from the constraints of dead faith, thus freeing us to live effectively through vibrant faith.
I admit that such a motive doesn't interest me nearly as much as it interests God. Perhaps you feel that way, too. Then, why not join me in this daring petition:
Prayer: Great Saviour, I invite you to shine Your diagnostic light on the patches of dead faith in my own heart. Increase my capacity for mercy towards others, including myself, as I learn to wait patiently and prayerfully on You to transform hearts. Teach me to trust You more fully for Your ongoing renewing work of regeneration — in myself and in others. Amen.
Listen to this devotional
Listen while you read: "My Faith Looks Up To Thee" (Lyrics)