So much talk about faith! If you have enough faith you will be healed, if you have enough faith nothing will be denied you, if you have enough faith you can do all things ... If you have enough faith, if you believe enough, if you trust enough but so little in terms of what faith is and so little in terms of just how you can have enough faith and believe enough. In this vacuum are so many man-made and often unbiblical teachings and declarations: If you give enough, if you do enough, if you fast enough, pray enough. But really, what does the Scriptures actually say? This has been my preoccupation for the entire Spring and Summer and while there is much left to learn, here is what Scripture has taught me:
- Faith is not our own: Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus is the "the founder (author) and perfecter of our faith." Romans 10:17 declares, "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ". It is the consistent teaching of Scripture that whatever and what little faith we possess, it is first and foremost the free gift of Christ. For the writer of Hebrews, Paul, the writers of the Scriptures, and our early church fathers faith came from the evidence of God's manifest work in the lives and experiences for His people. 1 Cor 12:9 teaches us that faith comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. For those of us who follow, it is the Holy Spirit that works to convict and convince, to build, to uphold, to sustain, and to grow. Thus at root, faith is not ours in the same sense that our salvation is not ours, rather, it is the gift of God that "becomes" ours by virtue of God's grace. Just as we declare, "My Salvation", when we declare "My faith", we must first and foremost acknowledge with humility that what faith we have is not ours to begin with and hence, we cannot boast of it, in and of ourselves. Rather, with contrite heart and spirit glorify Him in thankful reverence boast in Him acknowledging the poverty of our own estate (condition).
- Faith is manifest (evidenced by) and increased in obedience: The letter to the Hebrews is testimony to this. The long litany of the accounts of the faithful in this God inspired work lists several key principles of faith - radical faith. Indeed, it is the constant pattern of all Scripture from Old Testament through New. Principle among these is the quality of obedience stemming from trust in the Most High. Is this obedience and trust unquestioning, powerful, and unwavering to begin with? No. Consider the lives and testimony of just a few of these saints. Abraham wavered and questioned how he could be the father of many nations given his advanced age, Moses made excuses even when confronted by a burning bush, Joshua disobeyed even after God's manifest work in the victories that He gave, and Gideon demanded many proofs even after the Lord sent fire to consume his broth soaked sacrifice. In the end, it was through their initial faltering and small trust and one could even say, grudging obedience, that God worked through experience demonstrated by HIS faithfulness that their faith grew. So much so that in the end, Abraham believed so strongly in God that he offered up Issac when commanded, Moses led a nation of slaves out of the clutches of Pharaoh, Joshua declares, "As for me and my family, we will follow God.", and Gideon led 300 hundred against a vastly larger foe to victory. These are but a few examples and if we were to consider Scriptures with care, we will find this truth echoed through its pages. How can we forget faltering Peter who denied Christ three times who would eventually stand boldly before the Sanhedrin in the Book of Acts and go on to build His Church going on to fulfill Christ's prophesy that he (Peter) will be the rock upon which He would build the Church? All these experienced the grace of God who worked to build them from faith to faith as they obeyed, even though tentatively and grudgingly at first.
- Faith is attested to and grows in work: Embodied in the letter to the Hebrews is the second principle lesson on faith, that it is manifest through action - work. Notice how the faith of each and everyone of the saints listed in Hebrews, those whom the writer calls, "so great a cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12:1 demonstrated and was commended for their faith not for what lips declared, or songs proclaimed, or thoughts contained, but by what they did. This is the failing of the modern evangelical movement and indeed, most of the church in North America today. We have confused grace by salvation alone to egregiously diminish the place of work, to the detriment of our sanctification and growth. The Scriptures is replete with exhortations to put faith into action. Contrary to the popular and, I daresay, erroneous teaching of the modern church, by virtue of imbalance, is the saying, "Being a Christian is not about do's and don'ts". If this teaching is properly confined to the precinct of salvation, I have no quarrel, but it has not so confined itself. A careful study of Scripture will reveal that there are only three examples where God has worked His mighty miracles to reveal His manifest reality that did not require the agency of man. These are: The Creation, The Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection of Christ. Even so, one can even argue that the Virgin birth involved (not required) the acquiescence and obedience of Mary and Joseph, and the Resurrection involved the obedience and action of Christ, the man. Am I saying that God cannot work without the agency of man? God forbid! He can do all things! Remember the declaration of Joseph? ".. you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good"? God's purposes will always be done even if man opposes! Remember the lesson of Jonah? What then am I saying? I am saying that it seems that God has chosen to involve man in His work, not because He needs it but because we do and one of the primary reasons is that we would experience His power, goodness, mercy, grace, AND reality as we step out in faith, thus building among many things, our faith. I have learnt that when James declared, "... faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:7), the lessons embodied within are far more significant than we imagine.
- Faith is realized in expectancy and acceptance: True faith, Godly faith consists of two mutually supporting dualities and one overarching quality. It is both courageous and humble. It is both expectant and accepting. Both these dualities are knit together by confidence in the God whom we trust. Once again, these truths are found in Scripture. Throughout the long history of Israel and the Church, the saints have trusted God courageously leaning not on their own understanding but their courage is always tempered by humility acknowledging that God is sovereign and His ways not our way, His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isa 55:8-9). We often take God's promises out of context using such passages as, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." (James 5:16b) to mean that it will avail everything that we pray for in exactly the way we wish it. We neglect that this verse is spoken in the context of healing from the consequences of sin (James 5:16a). We also forget that when asked how we should pray, Jesus taught us first to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Abraham, the one counted righteous by God demonstrated these dualities. In fact properly understood, Abraham was counted righteous not because of his moral uprightness, his spirituality, or his religious fervor, rather in the Hebrew, righteousness is properly rendered as "to be right relationship with", he was counted (considered) righteous because he understood and lived in right relationship with God. We see this when Abraham was contending with God for the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, where he declares, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen 18:25). Some have rendered this a a rhetorical devise used by Abraham to sway the hand of God but there is no evidence of this given Abraham's lifetime testimony. Rather, it must be understood at its face value. Abraham was acknowledging and accepting the ultimate sovereignty and justice of God. This is accepting faith and this is the prayer of the righteous. Yes, God promises that He will answer the prayers of His children and he will provide. Yes, we must live by faith fully expecting that He will answer. However, when we take this to mean that He will answer contrary to His will and His expressed character we do so without reverence. Sadly, this is the popular belief of the day, it is the teaching of false prophets proclaiming a false Gospel found in the Prosperity Gospel, the Health, Wellness, and Welfare Gospel, and the Word of Faith movement. Such faith is no faith at all. True and radical faith is lived out in courage knowing that God will always be with us and holds goodwill towards us yet humble in acknowledging that in his sovereignty the means and manner in how He does this is His, not ours. True and radical faith is expectant faith confident in His promises yet accepting the reality that God will do so in the manner and the time of His choosing. Overarching these is faith that is upheld by the confidence in God who is just, loving, and merciful and will always act in accordance to His declared attributes even if we do not always understand or even agree with the manner in which we ask or desire. He will always answer, and He will always do right, and His ways are always better than any that we can devise.
- Faith is built up in perseverance: Hebrews 11:1 tells us that "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Paul in Romans 5:3-4 declares, "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." Do you see the connection? Can it see how counter culture and counter intuition, how counter human logic this teaching is? True faith is faith that endures ... it perseveres. The popular culture of the day based on human logic says that God wants good for us and we must expect this from God. It defines faith as one shrouded in the material and physical comfort of this life. It denies the place of suffering and the importance of holding firm ... enduring and persevering in the face of discomfort, opposition, and even suffering. Scripture goes beyond just perseverance and tells us to rejoice!!
This is why I entitled this devotion and study, "The 5 Faces of Radical Faith". All 5 are radical and refutes the wisdom of man.
When this world promotes a philosophy of self help, Scriptural Faith teaches us that it is not from us but from God. It tells us that Faith comes from Him and is gained by a radical dependence on God.
When this world celebrates a distorted understanding of liberty, Scriptural Faith radically teaches obedience, an obedience that comes not out of fear of condemnation because all condemnation has been expunged by the work of Christ upon the cross, gracefully offered by a loving God. It teaches obedience that does not come out of selfish desire for gain because our treasure and place in heaven has been guaranteed. Rather it is an obedience that flows out of love, borne of a God given desire to please God, upheld not by our own strength and striving but by the empowering of the Holy Spirit that transforms us.
When this world distorts Scripture telling that being a Christian is not about do's and don'ts, Scripture teaches us radically to strive, to put feet to our faith, action to our declaration. It does so not because God requires it to establish His Kingdom, His Kingdom is already come and His victory already won, but because He has willed it for our own edification and growth. He wills it for our joy as we witness His work done through and in us as we obey and confirm our obedience in substance through what we do.
When this world teaches us a self-centered and demanding faith based on what God can do for us. Scripture teaches us to be radical reconciling the seemingly opposing dualities of courage and humility and expectancy and acceptance. It teaches us to lean in confidence in a God who is loving, full or mercy and grace, righteous and just.
When this world would tell us faith is a means to a material end set upon the idols of wealth, health, wellness, and welfare, when faith is how we can speak these things into reality as though God is nothing but a genie in a bottle bereft of choice to act contrary to our will. Scripture teaches us that radical faith flourishes in adversity and suffering, tells us to rejoice because it produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character hope. Hope which is faith because faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.
May this study and devotion bless and build you up to a radical Biblical faith.