Biblical Faith, Part 2

Christians think they know what faith is all about, yet the state of many churches show that they, in fact, know very little about it. And this is most unfortunate given what Hebrews 11:6 says –

And without faith it is impossible to please God… (NIV)

Knowing what faith is is essential to pleasing God. So many Christians think faith is all about believing hard enough that God will answer a prayer. Or hoping things will work out if they believe hard enough. If that’s your idea of Biblical faith, then you’re not only living a very disappointing life but you are also not pleasing God.

Do you know what Biblical faith is all about? As we discovered in a previous study, there are numerous aspects to true faith. Hebrews 11 goes a very long way in helping the modern Christian come to grips with understanding not only what Biblical faith is, but also how to live a life of faith that is pleasing to God. Before returning to Hebrews 11, let’s take a brief look at a verse almost never studied in relation to faith.

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. (Revelation 14:12 ESV)

The Christians to whom John wrote his book of prophecy were in reality the members of the seven churches mentioned in the early chapters of Revelation. They were Christians, and apparently many were converts from Judaism. John encourages them (“the saints”) to endure, which is understandable. Early Christians lived miserable lives sometimes, at least by the standards of today. Persecution was routine and if John’s visions were accurate, the saints would face even more persecution in the future. But what’s really important to note is the second phrase of this verse because in it we learn something about yesterday’s Christian that today’s Christian desperately needs to know: They were living lives that successfully harmonized the commandments of God and faith in Jesus Christ. Sadly, the Church today gives very short shrift to God’s commandments. If they are mentioned at all in a modern church, it is often in a detrimental way – that faith in Jesus has done away with the law of God; that the two are mutually exclusive and irreconcilable. Nothing is further from the truth! The commandments of God include the moral, ethical and spiritual aspects of what God expected of His people as given throughout the Old Testament; throughout the Torah, the writings, and the prophets. That’s all these New Testament saints had; that was the Word of God to them and John encouraged them to be faithful to both the law (the Old Testament) and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as given to them by the apostles, including John himself. In other words, they were to believe and obey what God had said as opposed to what any man had said.

One time Jesus was having a conversation with some very religious people of His day. Here’s what our Lord told them:

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32 NIV)

Jesus was talking to Jewish converts to Christianity – Christians, not unbelievers. He was encouraging them to “hold to” His teaching, which suggests they were in danger of letting His teaching slip away in favor to other teachings. Also notice how our Lord began; He used the word “if.” It was entirely up to them to stop giving heed to man’s teachings and hold onto His. Proving ones’ self a disciple of Jesus is up to the person. And proof that you are a disciple of His is favoring the Word of God over the word of man. Where do your beliefs come from? Where do you get your philosophy? From where does your sense of morality come? To whom are you listening?

When looking at most verses from Revelation, we understand that we reading about what will happen in the future. But what it teaches us about today is just as important. There will be persecution of believers in the future, but when has there not been persecution of Christ’s followers? With that in mind, Alan Johnson’s observation of Revelation 14:12 seems pertinent:

The great test for Christians is whether through patient endurance they will remain loyal to Jesus and not fall prey to the deception of the beasts. They do this by their serious attention to God’s Word and their faithfulness to Christ Jesus.

There is no doubt that a key element of faith is a thorough, working knowledge of God’s Word, both Old and New Testaments, in any dispensation.

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17 KJV)

Returning to Hebrews 11, the author continues to give us more aspects of faith.

Faith looks ahead

Abraham’s story began back in Ur. He was living a comfortable life when out of the blue God called him to leave Ur and journey to land that He, God, had given him. A large chunk of Genesis is devoted to Abraham’s journey to his “land of promise.” He had no maps or compass, only God’s promise of a land that would be his. Every miserable step Abraham and his family took was taken in faith. During their trek across the trackless desert, Abraham spiritually stumbled many times; he lied, his children committed horrible sins, and even came close to giving up their faith. But Abraham had one thing going for him: he always looked ahead. In spite of how he felt at the moment, his focus was on the future; the place where God’s promises find fulfillment.

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10 NIV)

But it would be a mistake to think that Abraham was only focused on an earthly promise. Abraham may have started out looking for an earthly land, but ultimately he came to realize there was a whole lot more to God’s promise than merely acres on this planet! Somewhere along the way, God instilled in this patriarch’s heart his ultimate destination; the ultimate reward for walking in faith: a home in the heavenly city.

Jesus, as He encouraged His friends, said this:

There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly. (John 14:2, 3 TLB)

Faith looks ahead; it seeks eternal realities.

Faith proves itself

Faith was key to Sarah’s miraculous pregnancy.

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. (Hebrews 11:11 NIV)

Now this is an interesting verse, yet it really doesn’t tell us the whole story.

So Sarah laughed silently. “A woman my age have a baby?” she scoffed to herself. “And with a husband as old as mine?” (Genesis 18:12 TLB)

In the book of Genesis Sarah is far from a being a paragon of faith! What was the author of Hebrews getting at, then? In spite of her initial skepticism, Sarah eventually came to share Abraham’s faith. She must have, otherwise she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant! She knew she was too old, she knew her husband was too old, but in faith they “got together” and it happened. This was not a case of what Roman Catholics refer to as “immaculate conception!” Their faith enabled them to conceive a child. In spite of the absolute absurdity of the promise, Abraham and Sarah co-operated with God, God enabled them conceive a child, thus fulfilling His promise. Abraham and Sarah’s story sheds new light on Jeremiah 32:27 –

I am the Lord, the God of all mankind; is there anything too hard for me? (TLB)

Sarah had her doubts, but she took the chance. Unbelief is barren. Faith shows, every time. The blessings of “taking a chance” on God’s promises are beyond imagination!

Faith has vision

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

Sometimes that’s all faith has. Abraham and many members of his family didn’t live long enough to see God fulfill His promise. But they never stopped believing. Through all the ups and downs of their lives, through all the fleeting moments of doubt and faithlessness, in the end and on balance, they believed. And that was commendable.

All the great people of faith had this kind of vision. Remember this?

At that time I made this plea to God: ‘O Lord God, please let me cross over into the Promised Land—the good land beyond the Jordan River with its rolling hills—and Lebanon. I want to see the result of all the greatness and power you have been showing us; for what God in all of heaven or earth can do what you have done for us?’ (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 25 TLB)

That was Moses’ prayer, prayed in faith. There was nothing wrong with that prayer. All Moses wanted was to live long enough to set foot in the land he was leading his people to. He had faith, but God had other ideas.

“But the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not let me cross over. ‘Speak of it no more,’ he ordered, ‘but go to the top of Mount Pisgah where you can look out in every direction, and there you will see the land in the distance. But you shall not cross the Jordan River.” (Deuteronomy 3:26, 27 TLB)

You’ve probably prayed prayers like Moses did. Maybe you pleaded with God to heal a loved one or make a way or provide the thing you desperately needed. And for some reason He didn’t come through for you. You had faith – all the faith you could muster – but for some reason it wasn’t enough for God to act. That’s your perspective, and you’re entitled to it, as wrong as it may be. God was angry with Moses and that’s why he wasn’t allowed to set foot in Canaan. God may or may not be angry with you, but He has his reasons for not answering your prayer the way you thought He should. But that should never dampen your faith. It didn’t dampen the faith of the patriarchs. They did no more than “see” their equivalent of the Promised Land.

Just because they never got what God had promised them didn’t mean their faith was lacking. In fact, they way the lived proved their faith. Faith climbs to the top of Mount Pisgah and faith sees the promise. And that’s all faith needs because as much as we may wish otherwise, sometimes a vision of a blessing that is “at a distance” is all we’re allowed. The patriarchs all sensed that the vision God had given them was for a day in the future. But they had enough wisdom to see the whole, not just the parts, and to see ahead, not just the present. All these people of Hebrews 11 were willing to be tiny parts in God’s big plan. They all knew what you must know: The God who gave the vision would not die when they did.

 

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