Bible Study: Faith
According to Hebrews 11:1, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. But how do we acquire this faith? How do we get this conviction about spiritual realities that we cannot know with our senses? Sometimes it just seems that to trust God and to believe what He says takes all we can muster within ourselves-indeed, it sometimes feels beyond our grasp, especially when our senses tell us that what we are trying to believe could not possibly be true. At the same time, faith is an incredibly simple thing that we exercise on a daily, even minute by minute, basis. How do we know that an elevator will not plummet ten stories to the ground when we step on it? So to step on an elevator is an act of faith that it will operate properly. Also, when we get into a car, we are exercising trust that we will be relatively safe and that other drivers will not ram into us. To exercise faith, then, is simply a mat-ter of making a decision to trust something or someone without having definitive proof of their reliability In fact, we rarely have the luxury of having anything definitively proven to us; usually we must make the best judgment we can based on the facts we possess. When it comes to the spiritual realm, however, we are not dealing with facts we can verify with our senses; rather we are presented with truths that can be believed or disbelieved, lived by, or not lived by. These truths steadfastly resist any kind of demonstration as to their truth, except through the experience of a lived-out faith.
But I have been talking as if we merely were believing some kind of truths about the universe, when the faith which the Bible speaks of is faith in a person, in fact the One Person in the universe, God Himself Faith is not believing some truth about the universe, or even some truth about God; rather, it is trust in an invisible person who governs the universe in absolute sovereign power and total goodness and love. To trust in God means to believe that He is willing and able to do what He has promised. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is filled with examples of those who have taken God at His word, acted accordingly, and so received God’s approval (11:2). Faith is simply the decision to take God at His word and obey in the moment that we are required to make a choice. Exercising faith is simply acting as if something were true even though we have no way of rationally demonstrating that it is so. And God is constantly presenting us with crossroads in which we must make the decision to trust Him or not trust Him despite our feelings, and this trust always manifests itself in concrete obedience. Faith that is not acted upon and that does not manifest itself in obedience is not faith in the biblical sense. The apostle Paul speaks of the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:8). Faith at its basis is simply a decision, and one would not speak of acquiring a decision: one simply makes the decision to take God at His word when the temptation not to presents itself.
But how do we make the right decision to trust God and His word and not keep making wrong decisions to trust in self and our own feelings and perceptions? Basically we must become more convinced of the reality of God and His promises than the reality of our own feelings in the moment. We must become convinced that there is an invisible spiritual reality that transcends what we can see and feel. The writer of Hebrews says that without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would come to Him must believe that He is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him (11:6). To believe that He is is not simply to believe in God’s existence; it is to believe that the biblical God is the One Person who is ultimately real and that everything in creation is only an expression of this One Person in one form or another. According to Moses, God’s name is I AM (Ex. 3:14). Our problem lies in the fact that our own thoughts, feelings and reactions to our circumstances seem more real to us than God Himself so that we do not penetrate beyond the appearances and see everything that happens to us as a form of God coming to us.
So Noah, when warned by God about events to come that he had no proof would actually happen (though one wonders how he knew that it was God who warned him), respected that warning and built the ark (Heb. 11:7). Noah did not worry about not having enough faith; he simply obeyed God when the word came. Noah saw through the appearances that every-thing would remain the way it had always been since the creation and trusted God instead of his sense-perceptions and soul reactions. Knowing what God was like, he was not surprised at the warning of a flood, for He knew God’s hatred of sin, how sin provoked God to wrath. In other words, Noah saw the flood as a form of God coming in judgment against the sins of humanity, and since he respected the reality of God more than the reality of his own feelings, he obeyed God and built the ark. As a result, God saved him and his family from being condemned with the world.
And when God told Abraham to set out for a new land, Abraham obeyed with-out knowing where he was going (Heb. 11:8). Against all reason, and against every feeling he set out on a journey that most would consider foolhardy, simply because God had told him to go. Which one of us would start a journey and tell all our friends and relatives that we had no idea where we were going, only that God would tell us when we got there. Don’t you think that if they had even the slightest feeling of affection for us, that they would try to stop us and convince us of the foolhardiness of such a venture? And except for the command of God, so it would be. But Abraham obeyed God and set out. Abraham did not trouble himself with acquiring faith, he simply made the decision to take God at His word and set out on the journey. Abraham’s faith was not a mere intellectual faith in some rational proposition, a merely soulish faith of reason, rather, Abraham committed himself to the truth of what God was saying by his concrete obedience.
And when Abraham was told that he would be the father of many nations and that Sarah would bear him a son even though she was ninety years old and Abraham over a hundred, he did not waver in unbelief over the fact that his bodywas as good as dead, but grew strong in his faith because he was convinced that God was able to do what He had promised (Rom. 4:18-21). When Abraham reached the crossroads of decision, he chose to take God at His word rather than trust what his reason and feelings told him. He knew that his body was as good as dead as far as procreation was concerned, but He knew that His God was One who was the Lord of life and death, who had the power to give life to the dead if He so chose. But if you look at Abraham’s life in Genesis 12-24, you will find that Abraham had not always trusted God. He had not trusted God when Ishmael was conceived, nor did he trust God when he lied to Pharaoh and Abimelech about Sarah being his wife. But each time he made the decision to take God at his word and act accordingly, his faith became a deeper and deeper conviction until it became an inner knowing about the invisible reality of God.
So how do we acquire faith that it is really no longer us but Christ who is living His life through us (Gal. 2:20)? First, like Abraham, we must face the fact that we are as good as dead as far as producing anything righteous in and of ourselves. Apart from Christ we are rotten and sinful to the core. We should certainly not indulge in the fantasy of our own goodness when Jesus himself said that only God was good (Mark 10:18). Having faced the facts, we can then take God at His word that we are crucified with Christ and that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives His life through us. By making the decision in each and every moment to take God at His word and act in obedience to what the Spirit prompts us to do, we will find that God is faithful to His word, and that Christ, rather than Satan, does actually live out through us. With each decision to trust God, our faith will bear fruit and eventually the conviction of things unseen will grip us and we will have the inner knowing of this reality. As Norman often said "What we take, takes us."
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 16 No 1
- Zerubbabel Focus: Teleconferencing Overseas
- How Acquire Faith?
- Editor’s Note
- Moments with Meryl
- A Look at a Book
- Our Second Despair
- Faith Lessons
- Area Fellowship News
- The Process of Faith
- The Blessings of Discipline
- Tape Talk
- Excerpt from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- The Delusion of Self-sufficiency
- Many Problems, One Solution–The British Fall Conference
- Wisconsin Fellowship Weekend: Three Perspectives
- Here Am I!
- Bible Study: Faith
- Questions & Answers
- Intercession In Action
- It Remains Tough
- On Faith and Discipline…
- Words to Live By…