The Bible has much to say on the topic of faith. In your average NIV Bible, the word is mentioned 270 times, and is preceded by numerous modifiers like “weak” and “dead” and “strong” and “steadfast.” But the word we need to talk about right now is “sound.” Because when faith is unsound, it can not only distance you from God, it can derail your life, warp your mind, and even kill you.
In Titus 2:2, Paul writes to Saint Titus, an early Christian missionary, and instructs him concerning the duties of church leaders. Here, Paul says that these leaders “are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.”
To have sound faith is to have healthy faith. But if Paul is advocating healthy faith, then there must be an opposite—an unhealthy kind of faith.
Indeed, there is, and Paul warns us of it in Ephesians 4:11-16, when he writes that one of the duties of church leaders is to make sure that Christians “should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”
Paul’s admonition to “no longer be children” means that we are to think our faith through, basing our decisions on how to worship God upon the firm foundation of scripture. This is important, because our faith affects how we view the world, and consequently, how we act and speak and feel.
To help you maintain a healthy spiritual life, let’s look at a few ways that faith in God can become unhealthy, and what you can do about it.
You’re Driven by Shame
Some Christians don’t see themselves as the children of a loving God, but rather as lowly worms beneath the feet of a wrathful deity. For these people, God’s opinion of them is based on how well they’ve performed, how much they’ve suffered, or any number of things that have no scriptural basis.
The truth, according to 1 John 4:8, is that God is love. End of story. He’s going to love you no matter what you do. Even when God was smiting cities in the Old Testament, His wrath was guidance, not hatred. Humankind is made in His image, and He declared His works to be “good.”
You can’t affect how God feels about you, and that’s a good thing. He loved you before you were born, He loves you now, and He’s going to love you forever, so let your actions flow from that knowledge.
You Need Signs to Act
It’s tempting to want God to run our lives for us, and to tell us the right answer in ever difficult situation. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t have one of the most wonderful gifts God ever gave us—our free will.
The idea that a Christian should wait on signs from God to act isn’t based in scripture, and, in fact, can paralyze us, the fear of moving outside of God’s will keeping us from moving forward with our lives. God can, and does, communicate with humanity in many ways, including giving signs, but this doesn’t mean that we need to wait for these signs for every major decision in our lives.
This is why God gave us scripture, which is God’s revealed will bound up in a book. When we follow the instructions inside—living as Christ lived, for example—we don’t need to wait for signs because we already know the right answer.
Instead of waiting around for a flash of light or a miraculous stranger, make your decisions based on scriptural examples. That’s what healthy faith looks like.
You Separate Yourself From “the World”
Healthy faith invites. Unhealthy faith divides. Remember this.
Some believe that a Godly life is possible only through complete separation from the world, and by creating a strict division between sacred things and secular things. The “secular” might include entertainment, literature, education, and even entire fields like science and medicine.
But the truth is this: God is in everything.
God loves the world. He created it and called it “good.” He gave His son to save it. He gave humanity the attributes needed to create art and culture and ever-evolving technology. When we cut ourselves off from these things, we cut ourselves off from the beauty God purposefully created in nature and in us. This is a kind of death, and leaves us out of touch with a world that desperately needs the touch of God.
Be the hand that beckons others into God’s grace, not the wall that springs up between the Christian Church and the rest of the world.
You Rely Only on the Supernatural
Unsound faith can lead not only to spiritual and emotional consequences, but to physical harm, too.
If your faith leads you to believe, for example, that you should shun medicine in favor of prayer, the results can be deadly in the physical sense. God made the plants out of which we use our God-given minds to make medicine. God’s healing is God’s healing, no matter how it happens.
The point is this: scripture doesn’t conflict with reality. With the exception of the rare miracle, you can’t expect to heal without medicine. You can’t expect to buy that new car without going into debt. You can’t expect to spend a life eating cheeseburgers without having cardiovascular problems. And most of all, you can’t expect a supernaturally perfect life simply because you’re a Christian
Healthy faith relies on the natural, while hoping for the supernatural, taking advantage of what God has already given us in order to live safe, healthy lives. Healthy faith also acknowledges that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people, and where actions have consequences.
Realize this, and you’ll be better equipped to serve God in a healthy way.
You Judge Others
Our final symptom of unhealthy faith is one that is all-too-familiar: the tendency to judge others.
Unhealthy faith doesn’t care whether it hurts people. It seeks only to correct through any means necessary, including shame, belittlement, bullying, and neglect.
But when we remember a little saying Jesus was fond of—a little something about a speck and a log—we realize that this behavior is wrong.
There’s a big difference between making someone aware of sin and inviting them to repent, and trying to actively punish them for their sin and push them into repentance. No one has ever come to Christ through mistreatment and emotional torture, and no one ever will.
Instead, live out your faith, and you’ll be a beacon to which others will be drawn. Those around you will want to be more like you, to have what you have, and if you have a healthy faith, you’ll tell them how that can happen in a loving way.
Healthy faith changes hearts rather than hardening them.
Be the Light
Faith isn’t meant to be limiting. Rather, it’s meant to be a never-ending wellspring of life. By basing your faith on scripture, you can be sure that you’re not only living the way God wants you to live, but that you’ll also be setting a great example for those around you.
God doesn’t want you to live in shame, hatred, isolation, or risk. He wants you to flourish, so take heed of these unhealthy traits and avoid them so that we can embrace the freedom a healthy faith in God brings.