Tying up loose ends – Faith

Faith

When I did my customary Bible search on a word or idea I want to discuss, I found there to be 56 references in the Old Testament to the text “faith” and 280 in the New Testament. Most of the OT references were to “faithful” and “faithfulness”, something I believe related to faith and confirmed when doing a Strong’s Concordance check – someone with faith will be faithful, just as God is. Then there was the concept of faith, encapsulated in words like “trust”, “confidence”, “reliance”, bringing me to the view if I were to check out all such references, I would soon get lost down the rabbit holes.

What has become very clear is that faith is an essential element in our study of the Prophets of the Bible and without it we might well conclude the prophets were deluded or worse and we would be wasting our time and energy in pursuing such studies if God was not for real. The crux question concerning God is not does religion keep one civilized and happy or, as Karl Marx put it, act as “the opium of the people”, but is it true and if so which variant, given that if A contradicts B then either A or B or both are false? In an earlier loose end, on “Apologetics”, I argued the weight of Bible prophecy that has been fulfilled is a powerful reason why I know the God I have faith in, as revealed in the Bible, is for real. Another is the resurrection of Jesus. I concur with Paul (as a “fundamentalist” – do I have a choice?) “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” 1 Corinthians 15:17.  

Which brings me to “what is faith” and specifically faith in the God of the Bible? One basically sound online Bible dictionary defined faith thus: “belief, trust, and loyalty to a person or thing. Christians find their security and hope in God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and say “amen” to that unique relationship to God in the Holy Spirit through love and obedience as expressed in lives of discipleship and service” and is later elaborating on this huge subject: “Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true. Its primary idea is trust. A thing is true, and therefore worthy of trust. It admits of many degrees up to full assurance of faith, in accordance with the evidence on which it rests”.

One of the great faith chapters in the Bible is Hebrews 11, which gives several examples of characters in the Bible who had faith and it was this that defined the way they lived. The writer of the Hebrews begins with Abel: “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (11:4) and ends considering the efficacy, trials and rewards of faith: “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (11:33-40).  

As for why faith matters and what faith actually is, the Hebrews writer helpfully points out: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear… Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (11:1,3,6). The one verse that links the OT and the NT and is quoted by Paul when discussing the essence of the Christian faith, and is the doctrine more than any central to the Reformation, “Justification by Faith”, is: “the just shall live by his faith” Habakkuk 2:4. This is his central plank as he expounds the Christian gospel in Romans, chapters 1-11. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith” Romans 1:16,17.

It would be rather simplistic to say that when it comes to having a relationship with God, while the OT was more about obeying the Law and the NT was more to with having faith, having faith and obedience to God go hand in hand. My own Christian background encouraged me to hang onto the notion that, when I had my conversion experience aged 15, that settled the matter of my eternal salvation. I was presented with texts like “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31) to prove the case. The question “once saved, always saved!?” is one that has divided Bible teachers I respect. R.T.Kendal and David Pawson have both written books with that title. Kendal concludes yes and Pawson no. While still more inclined to the Kendal position, I continue to urge folk to read the Bible which teaches salvation is ongoing, faith manifests itself in actions and Jesus own solemn teaching “but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” Matthew 24:13.  

The subject of law and grace, faith and works, how this impacts on our prayer life and life’s decisions and whether or not one can lose one’s salvation are lofty ones and beyond the scope of a book which is primarily about the prophets. One might reflect on the use of the word “faith” by Jesus and His followers. On several occasions Jesus healed those who had faith. Jesus said: “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” Matthew 17:20 and the history of the church is full of examples of those who had faith, even as small as a grain of mustard seed, who accomplished great things for the Kingdom and whose exploits we should emulate, just as urged by the writer to the Hebrews when considering the OT saints. The implications are enormous as we examine the world around us and its conundrums.  

When it comes to faith, one OT man of faith and a prophet at that, was Abraham, who was cited by Paul when tackling some of these great questions of his day (which still hold): “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” Galatians 3:6-14. If nothing else, these verses demonstrate the importance of having faith and it is this that saves us (and not our good works – subject of our next topic) and it governs how we live.

It is difficult to know how to wrap up discussion on a subject when there is so much more that could be usefully said. My own watchword and one that is strongly linked to my own church background is the call: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” Jude 1:3. If there is anything I can usefully do, given physical and circumstantial limitations it is to be an exemplar of the faith I claim and be an encourager to others to have faith and hang in there come what may: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” Revelation 14:12. Which brings us to the faithful one we follow and one who as one by-product of faith we expect to return to Earth in glory: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war” Revelation 19:11.

When it comes to examples of persons of faith and given it is relevant to this book, we need go no further than the Hebrew prophets even though other than the Habakkuk reference given above the word “faith” is not to be found in the narrative. Yet faith and faithfulness oozes throughout their lives and ministries. While we stand in awe at the startling revelations the prophets received, it still required faith to be those who not just heard from God but who at all costs were prepared to pass on the message and live accordingly. This also brings us to faithfulness. The prophets were faithful just as the one in whose name they prophesied is faithful. Faith may seem a scary thing for we ordinary folk but, without it, however tiny the “it” is, we can never please God or doing anything of import for God. As for faithfulness, however ordinary we are, we can and should be faithful and it is that, as was pointed out to this once rather naïve, zealous young Christian, what truly matters.      

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