Faith in Action
We have been looking together at this “mystery hid from ages and generations, but now made manifest–which is Christ in you”; but we have said nothing, except by implication, of the one way, the one Bible way, of experiencing this union with Him. Nothing could be simpler, of course it could not, because we were created to live like that, but the exercise of the one simplest of all human functions. It is the faculty of reception, called in the Bible–faith. “To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name”; for believing is receiving. “Received ye the Spirit by the words of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
We have pointed out all along that the one capacity with which human beings are endowed is that of receiving. The Creator gives, the creature receives. And obviously nothing is easier or more automatic than its constant exercise. Food, air, knowledge, the stored riches of this world, nothing is ours except by receiving it. “What hast thou that thou has not received?” asked the apostle of the Corinthians.
There is only one law of receiving–the law of desire. Out of the limitless stores of this world’s treasures, material, aesthetic, intellectual, yes and spiritually, we receive what we see to be available and want. He the Giver of all, and we the recipients of what we want. The myriad acts of reception and utilization in our daily lives are as near as can be automatic, so soon as we want these things. They are to our hands–the air we breathe, the food we eat, the books we read; “for what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful,” we pray at meals. And Bible faith is as simple as that. That was one reason why Jesus likened Himself to the simplest necessities of life, which we take as we need without thinking: “I am the bread of life”; “I am the light of the world”; “the water that I shall give him….”
But the one condition is always present–need: that is desire, thirst, hunger. Hungry? Here’s the food! Help yourself! And that is why the first approach that God makes to us in grace is the law; and the first work of the Spirit is to convince the world of sin; and the first gift of the gospel is repentance. We must be brought to see our need, then His supply–and then the almost automatic act of faith. “Why,” we just cry, “He’s ours. He died for me. I’m forgiven! God’s my Father and heaven’s my home.” And I hardly realize that in fact I’ve received by faith! Where there is the hunger, and where there is the bread, we just find ourselves eating!
All the activities of life, material or spiritual, are activities of faith–“faith which worketh by love,” faith stimulated into action by desire. We are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). We are saved by faith (Eph. 2:8). We are sanctified by faith (Acts 26:18); we receive and exercise the gifts of the Spirit by faith (Rom. 12:3, 6); Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17); we live by faith (Gal. 3:11); we walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7); we fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12), and a dozen others. And in every case it is the same process: need, recognition, reception, realization.
Supposing we have been justified by faith, what has taken place? My faith had been deprived of its old treasured possession–my own righteousness. The vacuum must be filled. How can a sinner be righteous before God? The need had been created. I was hungry and thirsty for righteousness. The word of God came, offering justification by faith in Christ. Hungry, needy faith recognized this Bible-attested fact, and almost automatically received it. To receive a thing is to realize that it is mine: “he that believeth hath the witness in himself.” “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Need, recognition, reception, realization.
Now take it further. The justified are sanctified. Jesus, who is our justification in heaven, is our sanctification on earth. In Him we died. In Him we rose to newness of life, with Him as our life: “Christ liveth in me.” How do we know this? By faith: by need, recognition, reception, realization. But let us remember faith is possession, and possession is realization. That this is not so easy is pictured for us in Heb. 3 and 4. Jesus is seen as our Moses and Joshua leading us through the wilderness and across the Jordan, testing us by many a strange privation and frustration, and exposing by that means the folly of judging by appearances, of the reactions of the murmuring self, of the sin of unbelief; and at the same time demonstrating in Moses the glorious deliverances of faith. Gradually the lessons are learned by the few, learned that hard way: the final crossing of faith is made through the Jordan, and the promised land reached. And this is interpreted for us as God’s rest, present-tense rest, for the believer. It is made plain that they who believe “do enter into rest,” as an actual and continual experience; and that this rest is not from working the works of God, but from working our own works. It is the rest-in-experience from independent self (4:10); it is the replacement of ourselves by Himself, the Divine Worker, whose work is also His rest, for His yoke is easy and His burden light. But the writer to the Hebrews does not portray the entering in as a light matter. He says it is preceded by a severe operation, by the surgeon’s knife of the Word of God which alone can penetrate to the innermost lair of the independent self, the “good” self, the Rom. 7 self, and expose the subtle difference between soul (independent self-activity) and spirit (the dependent self) made one with God’s Spirit, and thus between self-activity and the works of the Spirit. And he warns us to fear lest we miss it and seek earnestly to find it.
So in this next grade of faith for sanctification, as in the first for justification, there has to be the preliminary breaking up of the fallow ground, before the seed of faith can be sown and fructify. We saw in justification that the Spirit must cut faith free from its false moorings in righteousness by works, before it can set sail in the winds of the Spirit for its true haven in Christ. And that loosening process, the conviction of sin till the soul is desperate for salvation, often takes a long time and may involve drastic dealings. Only when there is the hunger and thirst of a faith in a vacuum can there be the simple reception and enjoyment of saving grace. And the same in sanctification. It is not now a question of the outward sins which subject the sinner to the wrath of God, but the indwelling sin which enslaves the saint; and once again faith has to be loosed from its false moorings. The saint has to learn that even in his new nature, self is as powerless as in the old; and that faith in any vestige of his own efforts to keep the law or work the works of God is like leaning his hand on a broken reed: it will pierce him; for law and sin are confederates in exposing the helplessness of self. Only by the hard way will he learn through wilderness privations and frustrations that faith, once more in a vacuum, must desperately seek another resting place: and only then can his eyes be opened to the inner meaning of these great truths we have been gazing upon. Then need is lost sight of in the recognition of the secret of supply; recognition is followed by glad reception, and reception by realization. “We which have believed do enter into rest.”
Does that mean that the hungry soul can do nothing about it, because it may be necessary for him to go through a further period of preparation and testing? Indeed no. The digging up of the fallow ground is as much God’s business, His work of grace, as is the sowing and fructifying of the seed of faith. All we are told to do is to believe. Let us then do so boldly. The process of faith as presented to us in Rom. 10 is that it starts with the declared word of God (10:17): “faith coming by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” That has already been given us in its completeness in the Bible, as it points to the living Word. The whole is open to us for our examination and digestion. But what actually happens, as we read it, is that out of its massed riches we “hear” certain truths by the Spirit, others we don’t as yet “hear.” Hearing is the operative word in this text, twice repeated. Hearing, it says, comes first by the Word of God. Some special words or truths are lit up to our hearts by the Spirit; we have been confronted just at that point by the Living God. Hearing then gives birth to faith. In other words, the Spirit creates hunger by the engrafted word, and faith, the receptive faculty now quickened into action, feeds on it. That will be first of all an inner reception; but Paul also says that the word of God from His mouth must become the word of faith in ours (10:8, 9). We confirm the inner fact of our reception by the outer testimony with our lips. We “confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus,” and thus objectify to ourselves that He is in us what He says He is, and enable the Spirit to bear witness to it with our spirits.
So this we must do just up to the light we have, and that light will not be some passing impression from a message we hear, but something which shines deep into our hearts. Where God shows us truth, there enter in by faith.
In this matter of sanctification, what have you “seen”? Have you “seen” Gal. 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”? Has light maybe dawned on you as you have read these pages? If so, receive as fact what God has shown to your heart. That is faith. Then confirm it by confessing with your mouth what you have received. You may at once have the realization of possession; or you may not. I personally did not for some time after I first saw the light on this. But, if God has given you the light and the gift of faith to receive, then, though you may be forgetful at times, or unbelieving at others, He will bring you back to your act of faith again and again; and in His own time and way you will come to have the witness in yourself, you will know. Don’t try to work anything up. The consummation of your faith in assurance comes down from above just as much as the beginning of your faith–from the Author and Finisher of our faith.
–The Deep Things of God