How Acquire Faith?
Many Christians, having accepted and believed the truth of the Scriptures, hit a brick wall in their personal experience.Their continual heart cry is “How can I know the reality of Christ in my life?” In the following excerpt from God Unlimited, Norman answers this question, laying out how to make faith a reality in our daily lives.
Now comes the question of experiencing what we may admit to be the truth. How many times I meet this heart cry, “But how make this real to myself? I know it in theory, I believe it mentally, but….” We have to get right down to the fundamental human issue. How do we experience what is beyond experience? How do we know what is beyond knowledge? How do we believe the impossible, unbelievable, absurd? Let us make no mistake about it. Here is where the battle is joined. God’s word proclaims an unbridgeable breach in human existence.
Man denies this. Man claims that every apparent breach can be bridged on a human level. That claim has been the occupation of philosophy from its beginnings with the Greeks, and the occupation of liberal theology, and the aim of ethics, and the objective of every religion except Christianity, and of a lot of Christianity also. The reason is plain. Admit the breach, and you destroy the autonomy of the self. But self-sufficiency, and a philosophy which will sustain it, is the be-all and end-all of a self-orientated humanity. Therefore sin must be explained away as ignorance or instinct, man’s innate goodness must be postulated, and man’s way to God smoothed through a supposed faith in our innate rootage in Him, or in His supposed character of undiscriminating love; or in the acceptability of our repentances, contrition, religious observances and so forth. Anything that preserves the integrity of the self and provides some mediation with the Eternal of which human reason and dignity can approve.
From the Other Side
But sin, creating an unbridgeable gulf between ourselves and God! What is that? Human reason can neither stomach nor explain that. And a movement over from the Other Side, of the Eternal into time, of the Invisible and Unknowable into a human body, of the Absolute into a relative existence, of the Creator among the created! Such is the outside limit of absurdity! So we come right up against it. Is faith easy? Yes, when you have got accustomed to it—at least easier. No, when the first trembling steps are being taken. Faith means something far more than repeating a creed. It means something that has penetrated us on the inside. It is not just truth in general. It is my truth. Not just the gospel, but my gospel. In other words something has stirred within which has been dawning light to us, not of ourselves. It has come from the Other Side.
The Bible word is conviction—of the Spirit. Some word from God has reached us which we just know to be true. In my own case, it was when, as a lad of eighteen, my football ambitions were shattered by an accident, and in hospital just one thought crossed my mind. Is there nothing but selfishness in the world? For I am totally selfish: my father, my mother, my home, the world is for me! I could not then have said that was the Spirit of God. But I knew it was truth. I would not even have recognized it as a flash from the Other Side. But it was. It was the preparatio evangelica for me. It conditioned me to recognize myself, not just as one that thought and did things of which I was ashamed, but as a sinner before the Ultimate, before God.
That again was revelation: the sudden recognition that God is holy, I unholy, and therefore eternally unfit to dwell with Him. And finally the flash of thought into my mind that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, really did shed His blood for me, and therefore there was no wrath, but acceptance for me. Could I prove one of those things? Not one. Could I be sure that it was God who said them to me, introduced them into my thinking? No.Teaching had some-thing to do with it. I had been taught through the years the Bible and the gospel. But external teaching does not save. It may be fuel for the lamp of the Spirit, that is all. How does God speak then, and how do we believe? I don’t know, because it all comes from the Other Side.
That precisely is faith. The nearest we can say is that through the human faculties of mind and heart there come to all (I believe) hidden communications of the Spirit, disturbances of the status quo, of our rationalizations, our funk holes in which we try to hide our sinfulness from ourselves and from Him, our false pursuit of satisfaction in things of time and sense, our build-up of a human ethic, religion, philosophy or idealism which crumbles when matched with the actual realities of our self-centred lives, or our pretended and endeavoured forms of communion with God. As we respond to these pricks, which was the name given to the goadings of the Spirit in the apostle Paul, further revelations of inner truth come to us, revelations to us if to no one else, revelations which have their ultimate source and guarantee in the Scriptures: “if they speak not according to this word, there is no light in them.”
But the moment comes when we settle it, or rather God settles it in us. We can prove nothing. The wise of this world may be able to shoot holes in our logic or reasons. We readily grant that the One in whom we now have put our faith is unknowable to the world, invisible, and we can never say we know or see Him except by faith. Historic facts are available, but again we admit that history is unprovable. We have only the word of the historians or eyewitnesses. We have no ultimate grounds upon which to base our belief in the reliability and infallibility of the Bible; indeed plenty can be brought against it.
We further admit that certain facts concerning the life and death of Christ are altogether beyond human probabilities–His deity, His incarnation, His physical resurrection, His ascension. Pile question mark upon question mark, we admit all. But faith has nothing to do with these. Faith is itself from the Other Side, and is as inexplicable and absurd as that in which it believes. Faith has nothing to say for itself beyond the bare statement that from certain inward convictions which are convictions to it, it stakes its all on God as truth in His revelation through the Bible and supremely the Christ of the Bible.
For myself I have stated the two main convictions which constrained me forty-seven years ago to gamble my life on God: first, what was the obvious, that I was a 100 per cent self-centred person; and second, that God was the wholly opposite, 100 per cent self-giving, so that He actually gave Himself in the Person of His Son to change me into His likeness. That final fact convinced me. I said I could follow to eternity a God who is forever the Servant of His own creation, even to the point of giving His own life for His enemies; and I could wish for nothing higher than that such a Person could and should live that same quality of life through selfish me. And so say I today.
Doubt—The Lifeblood of Faith
Faith is built on doubt. Doubt is its lifeblood. Don’t let us be mistaken about that. Faith is doubt absorbed, doubt conquered. Unbelief (unfaith) is doubt accepted. Unbelief is an act of will as much as faith. Doubt is not an act of will, but is the only attitude we humans can have towards anything external to us until we decide whether to accept it or reject it. The uncertainty, the doubt, is the very element which gives stimulus and passion to the decision. Faith then is built on doubt. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant says in his Critique of Pure Reason, “Nothing which is intuited in space is a thing-in-itself….What we call outward objects are nothing else but mere representations of our sensibility, whose real correlated thing-in-itself is not known by means of these representations, nor ever can be…. The things which we intuit are not in themselves the same as our representation of them in intuition….What may be the nature of objects considered as things-in-themselves and without reference to the receptivity of our sensibility is quite unknown to us.”
Every smallest action is conquered doubt. You eat food. How do you know it won’t poison you? You sit on a chair. How do you know it won’t collapse under you? You go to visit a certain home. How do you know it will be there when you get there? Action, therefore, on every level is conquered uncertainty. You make up your mind that there is every possible likelihood that a thing is what it appears to be and will react as you expect it to, and then you act—by faith. The more uncertainty there is, the more passion in your decision of faith, for there has been a bigger doubt to conquer. Should you or should you not marry that person? Should you move over there and accept that new job? Should you invest in that company?
But at least your eyes and ears and perhaps your friends are there to encourage you in your acts of faith. Such actions are usually accepted as normal or sensible. But when you move over to faith in God! There is these days in our so-called Christian countries even a respectable Christian faith. It is the done thing to be a church member. You were probably baptized into the church as an infant. It probably does not cost you more concern to be an adherent of the Christian faith than it does to choose your clothes, for it really is the same quality of faith in the visible, faith in your church’s outward creed.
It Costs Everything
But this is not the saving inward faith of which we are speaking. This faith costs everything, because it means taking seriously what cannot be taken halfheartedly, the challenge of an invisible Person who comes to claim His ownership of you, and offers you no proof beyond what inner convictions He gives you through His word, and even that cannot be proved by outward proofs to be His word. You are called to be a fool of faith, you are called to believe what this time does not carry with it at least a measure of common sense and obvious likelihood, but “entereth into that within the veil whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus.” If a faith must have some inward passion and conviction in it which will motivate a man to make some crucial earthly decision, how much more conviction and passion must be in a faith which has no earthly sanctions, yet will re-orientate the whole of life.
Now then again we ask the question, What will make meaningful to me these tremendous truths of Christ living His life in me, and I united to Him in place of the old union? The answer, of course, is faith. But that doesn’t seem to act. I do believe, and yet it seems to make little difference. Well, there is still no other answer. But it is possible that you are not really believing in God’s impossible word. You think you are, but you are really believing in what you think about that word. I told you that it costs everything to believe. “Let us labour therefore…lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” Faith crosses an unbridgeable gulf into the invisible, unknowable, impossible. It crosses just by believing it has crossed, because He says so, and He is the bridge. To everything on the human side of the gulf it looks as unbridgeable as ever, and that there is no other side! If therefore, without realizing it, you are basing your faith on a single personal reaction to your faith, then you are still on the human side of the gulf. You are really believing in yourself, not in Him who takes you to the Other Side.
A man said to me, “Please help me, I feel a barrier between myself and Christ.” I investigated and found that he had faith in an indwelling Christ, and had no barrier of immediate uncleansed sin; so I said, “You are wasting your time asking for help from an illusion. There is no barrier except that you have transferred your faith back from Him to yourself-what you feel about your relationship to Him. Get back where you were—to faith without a shred of human assistance.” Another said the same to me about power. How could he know the power of God? “Does Jesus Christ dwell in you?” I asked. “Yes,” he said “by faith.” “Then run away,” I said (he was a young man). “What more power can you want or have than He in you? You are wanting to exchange faith for sight. Faith has no other evidence than itself (he that believeth hath the witness in himself). You have turned back to find some missing evidence by believing what you feel in place of what He is.” Yet a third asked, “How can I know He abides in me?” Rather brutally I answered, “I am not the least interested in whether you know or do not know. I am only interested in whether He is in you or not. What you know directs your faith on to what you know, not what He is.”
On the human side of the gulf we humans want all our human proofs of feelings, evidences, results and so forth. On the other side of the gulf, and the bridge over the gulf, is the One who is forever unknowable and invisible to the human; and faith has staked all on Him, indeed the faith itself is really only He in us believing in Himself—there’s nothing human left to it. If I hold a book in my hand and say, “This is a book,” I am only directing your and my own attention to the fact of the book. That is faith in the fact that the book is a book. If I say to you, “I believe this is a book,” I am diverting your and my attention from the fact of the book being a book to my views and beliefs about the book. I have transferred your potential faith from the book to myself and my opinions. That is what we are continually doing, and is the cause of much weakness and wavering in faith.
A Fixed Faith
I think that part of our spiritual education at the hands of God has necessarily to be dry times, times when He appears to have withdrawn His presence, times when the Bible ceases to speak to us, prayer is dull, our heart seems cold, fruit seems to be nil; and such times are most healthy for us till we have thoroughly learned this one lesson–the difference between faith which has gone onto the Other Side because it has merely been His own believing in Himself in us, and we have nothing more to do with it than just to relax in the fact that He is believing in Himself in us; the difference between such a faith of God and our faith which is composed of how I feel about Him, how I know or don’t know Him, how I see or don’t see Him at work, and so on. When we have learned the difference, we walk as naturally and composedly in dark as in light, in dry as in fruitful times, because it is nothing to do with us; the faith, being God’s faith, is impervious to the storms that blow in the visible world. To a large extent, the variations disappear between dry and fresh, dull and bright, hot and cold, fruitful and fruitless, shewing that they were largely psychological and illusory to a faith that is fixed.
So we come down to this. Certain facts are presented to us through the revelation of God’s word. The birth of faith is the inward conviction that these are the truth for me. Therefore I receive and believe them, and in doing so transcend all natural doubts either about the truth of them or their efficacy in my own life. I transcend the doubts by replacing them by deliberate faith; actually their opposition is what gives sinews to my faith. The subtlest form of doubt will be psychological, the questioning in my own mind whether these things are really so, because I don’t feel or see their effect on me, because they still appear unreal to me, and so on. But I learn by these very pressures that what has appeared at first to be my faith in these facts was in reality a faith imparted to me, God’s faith, without which I should never have been able to perceive or receive these facts as facts; therefore I relax in the midst of such doubts and questionings, not trying to believe, but affirming that it has been taken out of my hands. God has done the believing in me; then leave Him to it, for the facts are that He Himself now lives His own life in me.
But supposing I say that I am not sure whether I am willing to face the implications of Christ living in me. There are things in my life I would not be willing for Him to take from me or tell me to do; there are things I would find it impossible to change, or do not want to change, habits, or attitudes or practices; there are confessions I might have to make, people I might have to forgive or love, whom I do not love. Self cannot change self. God is not asking that unwilling self become willing self, because it cannot. God asks nothing from us, because there is nothing we can give or do. We go right back to our foundations; humans are capable of receiving, not doing. Being intelligent and free, there is only one requirement—that we just honestly admit ourselves to be what we are: if unwilling, say so; if fearful that things might be required of us which we couldn’t do, say so; if we have habits we can’t break, or relationships or attitudes we don’t know how we could change or even want to, say so; then having been honest as far as we know how, it is “over to Him,” we simply dare to affirm that He is what He is in us by grace, or becomes so at this moment, and dare to believe that He will change what needs changing. It is nothing to do with what we see or feel about it; faith is not in our reactions, but in Him and His word as facts.
In doing that, in affirming a God-implanted faith in this tremendous fact of Christ’s full redemptive work in us, replacing the spirit of self-love in us by His Spirit of self-giving, implicit in such a faith is the recognition that He is going to live another quality of life in us, and that therefore He will make any necessary changes in us, even though humanly we are not even willing. He will impart His willingness to us, which will not only overcome our unwillingness, but actually change us into willing His will with Him, according to Paul’s statement that “it is God which worketh in us to will and to do of His good pleasure”; and note that it is His good pleasure, and if He enjoys what He does in us, we shall enjoy it too.
I know no better account of the reality of the struggle of a self confronted with the offer of God to live in that life, wanting it yet not wanting it, facing its implications pragmatically point by point, than the chapter in the life of Rees Howells, Intercessor how he received the Holy Ghost; how ultimately he had to come to the crisis point, and cried out he was not willing, but the Voice came back to him, Are you willing to be made willing? And that ended the week-long conflict.
An Inner Witness
But again we ask, because it is often asked, Does the committal of faith mean that we have an inner witness to our believing? There are those indeed who urge people to “hold on,” “wait,” “pray through” until they do, and say that they cannot be truly sure that they have received what they have asked for, until they have that witness. It is not for us to decry any approach of a seeking soul to God, and certainly not an approach which has brought deliverance and the certainty of the Holy Spirit to thousands. God is so much bigger than our puny understanding, and meets us on the level of our heart’s desire. Let each pursue and advocate the way God has made real to us.
There is a witness of the Spirit, the Bible is plain on that. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” was a key text in the early Methodist revivals, and is in the foreground of the teaching of most “Holiness” bodies, and the Pentecostals, and the Salvation Army. But I cannot say that it is given the place of importance in the Scriptures. Everything [in the Scriptures] is the one word–faith. Implicit in faith is that it brings its own witness; but that is secondary, and remarked on incidentally. The obvious danger of regarding the witness as the necessary evidence of faith is that it brings us back once again to gauging faith by feelings. To make the witness the sign of faith is that same retrogression from simply seeing Him who is invisible by the nakedness of faith, which truly honours Him and His unchanging word, to needing some boost to faith, which is really believing in what we feel of Him, and not unconditionally in Him.
The Scriptures do not speak of the witness as a sign, but merely as the inevitable outcome of living faith. When we believe, we have the witness, because faith is its own witness. Therefore the witness is not experienced by seeking it, but by occupation in believing, and believing is just constantly recognizing Christ within—by faith. And if we do not “feel” a witness? Well, keep on believing, even if we die without a witness. It is the old, old snare. Where can I find joy? Where peace? Where power? By seeking them, which really means seeking my feelings of joy, peace, power? No. By seeing Him—by faith. HE is the joy, peace, power, all. He is that whether we feel it or no. Keep occupied in affirming Him by faith, even though I feel as heavy as lead or as weak as water, or as disturbed as a windstorm. Keep believing Him in these conditions. Whether and when they change is His business.
If we have Him, we have all. We shall and do experience Him as all these; but I am almost afraid to say that, because we then turn back again and say, “Well, where are they? I don’t feel them.” And we are back again on the self-level. It is safer to say that I have only Him as my all. How He manifests Himself is entirely His business, and His way is perfect. If I never have a witness of Him (and I have known saints of God who have lived and died practically with no inner witness), we still have Him; and maybe I shall find one day that the trial of my faith (not my faith, but its trial-having to walk with God in the dark maybe) has been, as Peter said, more precious than gold that perisheth, and will be found peculiarly “unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”